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Teach Us to Sit Still: A Sceptic's Search for Health and Healing

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  1,154 ratings  ·  150 reviews
This is the visceral, thought-provoking and improbably entertaining story of Tim Park's (a.k.a. John MacDowell's) quest to overcome ill health. Bedevilled by a crippling condition which nobody could explain or relieve, he confronts hard truths about the relationship between the mind and the body, the hectic modern world and his life as a writer.
Paperback, 352 pages
Published April 27th 2011 by Harvill Secker (first published August 24th 2001)
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(3.5) Starting in his forties, Parks was plagued by urinary problems and abdominal pain. Each night he had to get up five or six times to urinate, and when he didn’t have fiery pangs shooting through his pelvic area he had a dull ache. Doctors assessed his prostate and bladder in tests that seemed more like torture sessions, but ultimately found nothing wrong. While he was relieved that his worst fears of cancer were allayed, he was left with a dilemma: constant, unexplained discomfort and no ...more
Tim Parks is one of my favorite authors: I love his books about Italy because they give such a good picture of the unique universe that country is, and I love most of his novels because they are written in an ingenious, sometimes very intense style and very thoroughly zoom in on the psyche of the hectic life and uncertainty of modern man. But this book did not really resonate.

Maybe that's because it's a non-fiction work, and more specifically about Tim Parks himself. No, it is not an
Aug 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Richard Morte
Shelves: favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Janey Bennett
Oct 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I think this book is extraordinary. It took courage to write it, to chronicle the demeaning, self-effacing, revelatory, foolish, helpless moments that the overstimulated ego of the author/subject was learning to live with. Out of it comes real wisdom, a journey of discovery that is the best of the self-discovery books I've ever encountered. What illness teaches and how, what surprises it holds, how life is enriched after losing everything, is all in this book. I recommend it highly.
Jun 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
A tale of extreme navel gazing and introspection which - due to Tim Parks' engaging style - is, improbably, a page-turner.

I'd previously read three Tim Parks non-fiction books... 'Italian Neighbours: An Englishman in Verona', 'An Italian Education', and 'A Season with Verona: Travels Around Italy in Search of Illusion, National Character . . . and Goals!' ...and really enjoyed them all.

Tim Parks is a good writer with the knack of making the everyday absorbing and, in the case of this book,
Mar 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
This was a hard one to rate. It deserves a lot of stars because it's so worth reading and learning from. But it's not easy to read. Not because the writing is bad - it's great, actually. It's just that the content challenges so many (mostly Western) assumptions about the connection between body and mind, between health and thought. The author is a challenging personality as well - tense and obsessive, but also thoughtful and caring and a skilled story-teller.

What makes the book so worthwhile is
Feb 03, 2015 rated it it was ok
This is probably 2 and half stars. I should start by saying how I came across this book. I referred a patient of mine to a very specialist pain clinic as her life had completely succumbed to pain, vomiting and immobility and we as her doctors could offer no solutions. At the point of being discharged a psychiatrist who had met with her recommended she read this and out of nosiness I thought I'd give it a go too.

Its started very well, I enjoyed the first 50%, Parks paints a startling picture of
Barbara Mitchell
Jul 14, 2011 rated it liked it
Tim Parks is a successful writer who has written novels, nonfiction, and various magazine articles. Now he has written a unique memoir in which he is searching for a diagnosis or solution to mysterious pains and other physical symptoms no one can figure out.

Rather than a sad, whiny, poor-ol'-me sort of memoir, this is honest, factual, and often funny. At first he thinks his terrible pain, urinary frequency and other symptoms are simply physical. Prostate is the first body part to come under
If you came to this book because you want to know more about meditation you came to the wrong place. parks describes his very personal process of dealing with his physical (and mental) suffering by re-learning how to breath and pay attention to the here and now. he rejects the concepts behind this form of meditation (buddhism) and is building his own eclectic method just like so many other people are. for me the book was entertaining because it tells about the specific difficulties people that ...more
David Fenton
Jul 25, 2010 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone interested in mind/body relationships, meditation
A surprisingly enjoyable read. Tim Parks's search for relief from a pelvic pain he has suffered for many years and his determination to find an answer that does not involve surgery is engaging and informative. His writing style is friendly and easy. As the medical explanations for his pain become more vague and the more insistent they are that he needs to undergo surgery, the more Parks decides to explore other avenues. Being a writer, he starts out by wondering if it's all in the mind. He ...more
Sarah Cubitt
Apr 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
I'm a doctor, so this book was interesting to me, & medically correct. However, I found it so over-analytical & I think the author was pretty neurotic. I admire his search within for what the route of his pain could be (& wish more people would do so!) however I think reading all of his thoughts in such great depth was too much for me. The journey he went on was interesting & admirable, but the writing style & reading the interminable self-analysis wasn't for me.
Mar 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Great read for anyone who is curious about the meditation retreats of John Coleman, a student of the Burmese meditation teacher U Ba Khin. The book is a narrative about someone who is discovering the connection between his mind and body for the first time.
Mar 16, 2013 rated it did not like it
What a yawn---Man hurts. Man frets. Man finally sits still and shuts up. Man feels better.

There---I just saved you hours of slogging through Tim Park's preoccupation with himself.
Oct 08, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Molly by: Emily
I started this book hungrily, perhaps because I can relate to the desperation of an undefinable illness, of the chronic discomfort that one searches futilely for solutions: relinquishing alcohol and caffeine and exercising more or less and spending hours on the internet and cruising various doctors (for me, the standard family practice led to a neurologist led to acupuncture, where it has settled for the time being, but there is hope too in yoga and supplements and still, the flutter of ...more
Oct 19, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Not my usual sort of book - not anyone's, excerpt perhaps men aged over 50 who want to understand more about their prostates and peeing mechanisms into which it goes in very great detail for half the book. But Parks writes well enough that even this is quite riveting, especially the casualness of the surgical interventions offered. Even within this there are little glimmers that there might be something different happening, something psychological or spiritual even, and that medicine might not ...more
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A fine book that I will read again. The author, a successful writer and translator living in Italy, develops debilitating prostatitis, with severe pain and frequent urination. Medical tests find no definitive diagnosis, but his doctor recommends surgery. He searches for alternatives, fighting his preconceptions while making progress with relaxation techniques and Vipassana meditation, ultimately learning about himself.

The book’s charm results from the author’s honesty, intelligence, and
Phil Calandra
Feb 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a story of the author's quest to overcoming a crippling health condition namely Chronic Pelvic Pain Syndrome or non-bacterial prostatitis. I'm very disheartened concerning some of the negative reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. I haves suffered from CPPS for nearly 20 years. In fact in reading this book it seemed like my own autobiography. Very much like the author, I tried all kinds of alternative treatments (acupuncture, homeopathy, removal of all dental amalgams, and other treatments) ...more
Nancy Kennedy
Feb 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Some illnesses are just not glamorous. No one's sporting ribbons for ulcerative colitis or running races for IBS. So it is with prostatitis, the topic of this book. Descriptions of the symptoms, causes and possible treatments raise a huge ick barrier for the reader. But don't let that stop you from reading this book.

Tim Parks, a professor and prolific author who lives in Italy, suffers debilitating pain that keeps him from being able to walk and sit. It wakes him in the night. It causes him to
Sep 28, 2014 rated it really liked it
Despite its eye-watering descriptions of urological investigations into his ongoing bladder pain (which have a special frisson for any male over a certain age, it has to be said), this is a very enjoyable book by Tim Parks (or Tim 'Pax' as most of the Italians insist on calling him). Parks is an expat writer, who has made himself into a keen chronicler of modern Italian life (his book on following his local football team in Verona is essential), but this work of non-fiction is more about the ...more
Feb 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
The author has an interesting way of telling the story, sort of weaving in and around and all about! Another view of how stress can make us very ill.
Chris Walker
Oct 08, 2015 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Dan Thompson
This is the first non-fiction book I've read in months and to be honest it was a great book with many downsides. Non-fiction tends to be specialised and written with a specific audience or market in mind. Teach Us To Sit Still tends to flow in and out of many different 'markets' although this doesn't necessarily mean it's bad.

At first glance it seems to be about meditation, though upon reading you find Parks describing his painful illness although there doesn't seem to be anything medically
Oct 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
It took me a while to get through this book. Nonetheless, it had an impact on me, so I recommend it if you relate to the subject matter.

The book is about the author's quest for health and well-being, as unexplained physical ailments (in his case abdominal pain) plague him, and he seeks a cure. I related to the book on several fronts. First, I've recently suffered from the same ailments as the author describes, and for the same reason: too much tension in mid-life. I also related to the author's
Jul 02, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Tedious - don't bother!

Carefully written book that includes many valuable insights. However any positive aspects of this book are overshadowed by its tedious whining and self indulgent, egocentric tone. Spare yourself, pass it by.
Two Readers in Love
It seems odd that I discovered Parks via my reading on pain management and meditation rather than through his fiction, or my reading on translation, but I suppose 'all roads lead to Rome,' or in this case Verona/Milan. In any case, I'm glad I discovered this book. The T.S. Eliot title must have grabbed me as I see I added this to my "wish to read" list on Shelfari/Goodreads back in 2012, but it took me five years to finally get a copy, and in the intervening time I took up meditation to combat ...more
Neil Manuel
Jul 12, 2019 rated it liked it
Teach Us To Sit Still weaves the line between a discovery self-help & self-care and that of literary criticism. At times it is quite insightful and offers some ideas on chronic pain that are worth listening to. But as the book goes on the connection between literature and the healing of pain get a little foggier, before eventually losing the connection entirely. Although it has many good points, as a whole it fails to deliver to those dealing with chronic pain, and those looking for literary ...more
Jan 01, 2020 rated it liked it
Decent read. Didn't quite flow the way I like.

Very graphic descriptions of his battle with an illness, which can be unsettling, but also it's this brutal honesty of his feelings which makes you admire him.

Some nice insights on what's going through someone's mind as they try meditation, their expectations / disappointments and the impact taking up meditation had on him.

Finished ages ago, never got round to updating!
Only interesting if you are making a serious attempt to learn to meditate and want to read about someone else’s struggle in excruciating detail.

Extraordinarily self-involved - he is indignant that some nuns nearby cheer for Italy at the Olympics on tv and disturb his meditation class. He is outraged to the point of bewilderment. How could they?
Lana Billman
Jun 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
Only reason for 2 stars instead of 3 is too many quotes (not just a sentence) from literature and poems, so I found myself skimming over pages at a time to get back to the crux of the personal journey. I know these were part of his journey, but it was too much for me.
Kate Orson
Mar 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
What I loved about this book is that Tim Parks is a complete sceptic to any kind of alternative healing. But when he's diagnosed with Prostatis (chronic pelvic pain), his doctor recommends surgery even though there's no organic cause for his pain. In a sense it's all in his mind. Parks then goes on a healing journey discovering meditation.
Having used yoga and meditation to improve my health for many years I often get frustrated by people who believe mainstream medicine is the solution to
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Born in Manchester in 1954, Tim Parks grew up in London and studied at Cambridge and Harvard. In 1981 he moved to Italy where he has lived ever since, raising a family of three children. He has written fourteen novels including Europa (shortlisted for the Booker prize), Destiny, Cleaver, and most recently In Extremis.
During the nineties he wrote two, personal and highly popular accounts of his