Friday, August 7, 2009

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – A Review of Mindfulness

The arrogance of the writing in this book caused me such upset that at times I either had to put it down (lest I take out my frustration on an innocent, furry creature) or impose extra irony onto the characters. That’s not to say that the writing was inadequate; indeed the author is quite fluent. And though I found the philosophical ponderings of the characters to be on the level of the third Matrix movie, there were some more profound moments as well. The ending fell extremely short, in my opinion, though again some of the reflections were simple and elegant.

One passage that I found to be of particular note was the young girl’s description of a school choir singing:

“Every time, it’s a miracle. Here are all these people, full of heartache or hatred or desire, and we all have our troubles and the school year is filled with vulgarity and triviality and consequence, and there are all these teachers and kids of every shape and size, and there’s this life we’re struggling through full of shouting and tears and laughter and fights and break-ups and dashed hopes and unexpected luck-it all disappears, just like that, when the choir begins to sing. Everyday life vanishes into song, you are suddenly overcome with a feeling of brotherhood, of deep solidarity, even love, and it diffuses the ugliness of everyday life into a spirit of perfect communion.”

Also, there was the idea put forth by the young, suicidal girl of a double journal, one journal dedicated to musings and another reserved for movements. I really like this idea as a sort of combination of CBT insights and mindfulness. Most people engaged in therapy already are probably doing some sort of thought and behaviour monitoring, so the idea of journaling this isn’t a far leap from the type of homework already being done.

However, mindfulness training in its early stages is typically designed as a two minute exercise. I think having a journal specific towards mindfulness based observations could really enhance the training. In the novel, the girl reflects on the movement of an object or person, from something small like a rose petal quivering to something more macroscopic like two people tugging on a piece of material, once a week. Something similar might be appropriate for mindfulness homework. The idea is to capture the detail of the movement – light, colour, texture, direction, etc…, while keeping the focus on the one event without brining in any judgements associated with the movement.

While I do consider each of these two journals to have there own benefits (though some care must be taken to avoid ruminations when thought-journaling), the concept of having two simultaneous, but separate records is extra appealing, even aesthetically (I do have a fascination with empty notebooks). It would be interesting to review at the end of the week the similarities and differences in unrelated thoughts and physical perceptions. In order to accomplish this though, one would have to journal about both things each day (or second day or week… as long as both get done on a particular day, not just one).

One thing I predict is that even in severe mood states, a person can still find the beauty in something simple. And maybe that idea can evolve one small event at a time, into a guileless way of living.


  1. it's a shame for a seemingly upsetting syntax to be encased in such an alluring title :) i am nonetheless compelled to look more into this novel...

    i like your idea of chronicling appealing perceptions into a catalog. for whom, and when is mindfulness training implemented? i originally began my Hungry blog based on exploring random observations that were appealing to me in a peculiar way. that seems to have been my version of mindfulness training.

  2. In terms of therapy, mindfulness is often incorporated into CBT and DBT strategies for people living with emotional disorders. However, mindfulness can be practiced (and is beneficial to) anyone at anytime. Shortly put, mindfulness is being consciously aware. According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, a famous proponent of mindfulness meditation, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” So yes, your blog would be an example of such observation (though I would consider the recording of such observations a tool to focus attention rather than a necessary part of practice). One of my first posts (Dec 2008) has a more detailed discussion of mindfulness therapies.