January Book Review: The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down by Haemin Sunim

Speaking directly to the anxieties that have become part of modern life, Haemin Sunim’s simple, compassionate teachings transcend religion, borders and ages, and serve as a calming reminder of the strength and joy that come from slowing down.

 Not only is this little hardback a really impactful read, but it’s also really beautifully designed. Amid the pockets of wisdom and personal anecdotes, Sunim’s book of mindfulness is adorned with stunning illustrations by Lee, a Korean artist. The images are simple yet striking and manage to produce the same calming effect as the text. Before even reading a word, I spent several minutes admiring this as a piece of artwork, which it truly is.

This is the first text on mindfulness that I have ever read. I went in expecting to come away from the book having pocketed some serious wisdom that would hopefully help to calm the racing mind which has fast become synonymous with modern life. I immediately wanted to approach this with a different method of reading. I didn’t want to quickly devour every single word as if being drawn into an exciting narrative which is fast-paced and intense. Instead, I wanted to read this more slowly, to really take in the words and the advice so that I could find real meaning. In short, I wanted this book to change me. And in a way, it did (though that is high expectation for any book…).

I took several things away from this text:

  1. We only see a small part of the world at any one time because our mind only has the capacity to focus on what we need or what interests us at a particular moment in life. We often get preoccupied with these things and lose sight of the bigger picture.
  2. At the end of a long day, write down all the things that stress you out on a piece of paper. This relieves your mind of having to carry around all that extra baggage. Now you can leave your stress on that piece of paper, go to bed with an easy mind for a restful night’s sleep, and wake up the next day ready to tackle them. They won’t have disappeared, but the point is that your mind doesn’t have to be burdened by them all the time.
  3. Let the little things go. What’s the point spending your life worrying about things that you cannot change? The only person who is hurt and affected by that, is you.
  4. We constantly change without realising it. Perhaps this is why we’re never fully satisfied, because our need and wants and beliefs are constantly evolving as we grow.
  5. The entire world is your teacher, if you open yourself up to it. All those knock-backs and hardships are lessons that are helping you to become the person you need to be, to get where you want to go. It’s hard to see that in the moment, but those experiences are helping to shape you, to make you stronger. It’s not the people being nice to you who are marking you the person you can be; it’s the ones who make it difficult for you because you’ll learn more from them.
  6. Don’t be a slave to your emotions. They’re fleeting will pass away by themselves. Sometimes giving your emotions the time and space to work themselves out is the best way to overcome them. ‘Remember that you are neither your feelings nor the story your mind tells about you to make sense of them. You are the vast silence that knows of their emergence and their disappearance.’
  7. Of all the words that pour out of our mouths every day, how many are really ours, and how many are borrowed from others? How often do we say something original? Is there such a thing as our own words anyway?
  8. Our mind is not as isolated as we think; it’s part of the world around us. The universe would not exist without the mind that thinks of it, just as the mind would not exist without a universe to exist in. We originate from one mind and should keep that in mind when isolation becomes overwhelming.
  9. Being mindful is learning to look at the world but, more importantly, to look at yourself objectively instead of getting caught up in your emotions.
  10. Stop worrying about what others think and just do what your heart wishes. Do not crowd your mind with ‘what ifs’.
  11. Life isn’t a hundred-meter race against your friends, but a lifelong marathon against yourself.’

It’s strange how you can read something like this and connect with certain parts more than others, as if they were written especially for you. This book has reminded me that I’m not the only person to go through the things I experience in my life; others experience similar things too. So we’re not as alone as we think.

The format of the book is pretty relaxed. Each new chapter has a specific theme and begins by exploring that theme through a poignant anecdote, which is followed by a collection of interesting ideas/quotes/thoughts about that subject. The illustrations are woven carefully throughout the text, careful not to impede or overpower the text in any way, but to offer a kind of partnership with Sunim’s words.

As one of my first books on mindfulness, I found the reading experience to be particularly thought-provoking. I like that the text invites you to reflect on your own life and how you perceive the world. I would certainly read more books of this genre, but think I would struggle to find any quite as aesthetically pleasing as this one…


February Book Review: The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan


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