‘Mind Full: Unwreck Your Head, De-stress Your Life’
Irish comedian Dermot Whelan makes meditation accessible
Many years ago, I declined an invitation to a spiritual retreat focusing on mindfulness and meditation. In visualizing the sessions, I pictured myself sitting in the back of the room mumbling wisecracks. I considered myself a practical thinker and doer, not some woo-woo ascetic. Since then, I’ve relaxed my opinions on mindfulness and meditation, but I still gravitate toward laughing and doing, so a meditation book by a comedian seemed tailored for me. Mind Full by Dermot Whelan didn’t disappoint. In fact, Whelan was the one making wisecracks.
An accessible story
To many, the stereotypes surrounding meditation may be off-putting. Meditation may bring to mind a robe-clad, bearded yogi on a mountaintop or a white-linen-clad yoga teacher in a painful pose beside a placid lake.
“Why does the ‘spiritual’ community take itself so seriously?” Dermot Whelan asks. “So many of the books I had read were by people who looked mildly tortured in their profile pictures. You know the ones, hands joined in prayer and held under the chin as if to say ‘It’s not easy being this wise but somehow I can pull it off …’”
While taking meditation seriously, Whelan also brings a spirit of levity. From realizing his own need for a serious life change to practical instruction, he makes the spiritual practice accessible.
Though most readers can’t relate directly to the author’s life as an Irish radio host and comedian, they can relate to his weaknesses, including negative self-talk, self-doubt and criticism, an inability to say “no,” anxiety, and overwork. Readers may be able to relate to his panic attack, to falling down the stairs after another night of a few too many, or to being drained by anxiety and lack of sleep. These events drove him to the reality that he needed … well, something.
“I wrote this book because I know what it’s like to feel crap,” he writes. “I know what it’s like to wake up in the middle of the night with a pounding heart and a frantic mind.”
As a comedian and writer, Whelan uses humor, plain talk, and friendly metaphors to engage even steak-and-potatoes readers.
For example, on his initial foray into meditation:
Any films I had seen about meditation masters usually lead to waking up in another dimension or, at least, to some very impressive martial arts. There wasn’t a nunchuck in sight. Had I missed something? All I felt was a bit more relaxed and slightly more aware of my breathing. And this is what I was to learn – it’s supposed to be underwhelming. We’re not supposed to feel … eh, whelmed …
On bragging about his growth after taking up meditation:
I realise I’m beginning to sound like a type of washing-up liquid (new, more powerful formula!), but bear with me …
On his overuse of alcohol:
If you allow your thought patterns to go unchecked, it creates a sort of imperceptible din that builds and builds until, somewhere in your subconscious, a voice says, “I need some serious relief from this.” And, like a bubble emerging from deep in the water, a thought rises to the surface of your thinking and up pops the suggestion: “I think I fancy a pint.” It wasn’t a desire for the actual drink; it was a desire for some mental silence or, at the very least, distraction.
Attainable how-to in a meditation book by a comedian
As Whelan points out, laughter helps us learn, so his explanations drive the lessons home. “Meditation is Tinder for your thoughts,” he writes. “It makes you aware of those [thoughts] you’re spending most time with and gives you a choice as to whether you wish to continue.”
His how-to instructions are both practical and humorous, and he includes chapters on maintaining “mind full” practices as part of our lives. The book’s final words provide reassurances, through an anecdote that demonstrates, “It takes very little to make a huge change,” and “We are not broken. Feeling down, anxious, uneasy, restless, irritable, overwhelmed, burnt out, alone, isolated, confused, sad, tired or just plain ‘meh’ is OK.”
And, finally, Whelan writes, “We can become our own biggest supporters. Our thoughts can be our greatest allies and the person we see in the mirror every day can be our closest friend. So, let’s give that friend a fighting chance and create some space for them to be heard.”
An Irish writer, Dermot Whelan peppers his book with “craic” – i.e., “fun” – both the word and the spirit. Besides mindfulness and meditation practices, a reader of Mind Full, a meditation book by a comedian, can come away with some of that same craic.
Mind Full: Unwreck Your Head, De-stress Your Life
By Dermot Whelan
Gill Books, April 2021
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