Before we get started, here’s my sketch of Ruby Wax, in honour of how fabulous I found her most recent book. Done with coloured pencils, black biro and an acrylic-painted background…
“There is no question that we humans are flawed, but the power of our minds can change everything.”
This beautifully uplifting, yet equally terrifying truth, is the closing sentence of ‘How to be Human’ – Ruby Wax’s latest book.
It’s well-known that Ruby is a committed mental health enthusiast, spreading awareness amongst us like a dame in a pantomime throwing sweets out to an audience. It’s a pleasure to be part of, and I felt like I bagged the best, juiciest sweet of all to suck on, after reading this smashin’ little number!
But Ruby’s ‘How to be Human’ took her curiosity and stubborn-ness to learn the nooks and crannies of the brain, and why we think and act the way we do – to another level. Ruby spent a whole year, with a neuroscientist, and monk in order to uncover some interesting truths about how we tick, in order to put her words into a comforting, inquisitive yet under-the-breath-chuckle of a read for us all. Unlike other celebrity published works, you can guarantee Ruby has been the main soldier at the heart of writing this. (and hasn’t put her name on someone else’s masterpiece…)
As a serial mental health sufferer myself, I felt like my head was warped into a comforting room listening to Ash (neuroscientist), Ruby and Thubten (monk) every time I slid out my bookmark and picked up from where I left off…
Each chapter includes a live discussion between the three of them, as Ruby prods and challenges both blokes into giving us the answers we’re all itching to know. Their relationship in the book reminded me of three kids ‘playing out’ after school, in a rather sophisticated way. They poke fun at each other, but are also very curious of each other’s general world observations, and points of view.
Ruby between the two professionals, reminds me of a pendant dangling between two boobs, bringing all the stuff that can feel wishy-washy or over-complicated, down to a level we can appreciate and understand. Or she is the third, undiscovered boob that we never knew we had! (choose whichever of the two metaphors that takes your fancy…)
Whilst beating ourselves up has become a ‘normal’ thing when we sway towards thinking negatively, even when we strive to be positive, Ruby reassures us that due to the way we have evolved as a species, we are more inclined to remember negative experiences. It is pointed out in the book that negative thoughts to the brain are like ‘velcro’ and positive – ‘Teflon’. I found this metaphor incredibly useful and of comfort. When you know a bit more ‘why’, you become more ‘accepting’, and therefore at peace with the ‘shit’ that seems to rain on your life and in your brain now and again.
Even more interestingly, we discover through reading this book that when we are feeling negative, we are naturally more analytical about a situation – we weigh up the risks in order to prevent further danger (whether emotional or physical), and that’s why we remember them more. But when we feel happy, we’re not doing any of this – we are just ‘feeling’. So that’s why we don’t remember as much. Which is a bit of a shitter. BUT we can alter the messages between our brain cells, over time, if we are patient enough. Through ‘mindfulness’.
Ruby instils hope by reassuring us: “You can teach a dog new tricks.”
Hallelujah! This makes me want to dosey-doh, wearing a cowboy hat…
Thubten, the monk, prompts the point of how ‘mindfulness’ as a practice may have become more popular in recent years, due to the need for us to ‘upgrade our minds’. It is discussed amongst Ruby and her fellow boobs, that we have upgraded our technology so much, that our minds haven’t caught up. They’re lagging behind. We can’t work out why we’re so miserable or never feeling ‘good enough’, but we’re always directing our needs to outside things, and ‘stuff’ instead of focusing or understanding what’s going on ‘up there’ under our little skulls.
I love how mindfulness is put under the spotlight by Ruby, not with jazz hands and feather boas, but in a way that’s easier to understand, as though learning about the way food moves down the oesophagus. Or how rain is made. She makes me realise that mindfulness IS scientifically proven to change the way you think. Changing the way we think can therefore make us happier, make us more resilient to the setbacks in life and changes the way we see our world, for the better.
Be prepared for a journey through a theme park when you read this book. There’s lots of ‘oooooo’s’ and ‘aaaaaahhh’s’ and LOL’s. You’ll feel like you’re sat, squished tight on a Waltzer with Ruby, Ash and Thubten… spinning into fascination (without the wanting to puke bit)… and you’ll come off it in fits of giggles before moving onto the next ride, and the next chapter.
You can watch them all in action, discussing the book here:
…AND, if you’re now eager for a read, you can buy your very own copy of ‘How to be Human’, here:
Well, there we have it. I hope you enjoyed reading by book review, on a topic so close to my heart.
Here’s to some happier brains, and more contentment in our lives…