Comedian and best-selling author, Ruby Wax brings her sharp-witted humour and a degree in mindfulness-based cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) together to the Book Festival via her latest book, How To Be Human: The Manual, chaired by Jackie McGlone.
True to form, Wax heavily relies on the self-depreciating humour we’ve come to expect, in order to share her message with the audience in this hugely engaging discussion. Introducing the idea of mindfulness and what it means to her personally, Wax was quick to point out that she is a prime example of the very neuroplasticity she speaks so highly of, saying “I have literally changed my brain by thinking differently.” As a follow-up to her last book, A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled, her latest title serves to reinforce the positive message of the first book, using the latest evidence.
This is largely provided by Wax herself, who in pursuit of truth, found herself sharing her home with a monk and a neuroscientist. She wanted to find out, if practising daily mindfulness, could actually change her brain, which she argues is still stuck in the cave-man era, whilst the surrounding world is racing ahead. “It’s like you have a Ferrari for a brain but nobody gave you the keys.” She aims to suss out how to make your ancient brain work for you without dragging you into madness. She has condensed their experiences into this book.
Calling herself a “late-bloomer”, Wax told the audience how trauma had “locked her brain” and that brains and genes can change. More than that, they can be passed down generations, something she strongly believes we should be shouting from the rooftops. In a world that exacerbates the biological feedback loop; she stresses it’s important to exercise our thoughts in order to protect ourselves from an over-stimulating world and the resulting heightened cortisol levels – which lead to many diseases. The mind is a muscle, described by Wax as a “pile of sand; shifting in whichever direction you look.”
She tells us that self-awareness and understanding are the keys to mindfulness. “I looked at my rage, my fight, my shame, and I saw that it all came from my parents, my aunt.” It was this understanding which eventually led her to compassion, then forgiveness – and finally the point where she could gain distance from those behaviours.
She believes the need to medicate for mental illness has risen so drastically because our brains can’t keep up with our over-developed world, and told the audience that the next evolution would come from the realisation that our thoughts change our brains. In a bid to promote mindfulness and provide a safe-space for frazzled folks, Wax has set up a Frazzled Café initiative across the UK, in partnership with Marks and Spencer. You can find out where your nearest café is here.