Mindfulness has become a buzz word in recent years and is regularly cited as a way of dealing with mental health issues which are rising at an alarming rate. Ruby Wax – comedian, actress, author and mental health advocate – is a fan, and in this witty take on the human mind explores its importance.
In her latest book, How to Be Human: The Manual, an unlikely threesome (Wax, a monk and a neuroscientist) unlock the secrets of the human brain and why we all need to be a bit more in tune with our own thoughts and feelings if we are to start to tackle issues such as depression and anxiety, both of which Wax has spoken openly about dealing with throughout her life.
The book’s opening chapter is all about the evolution of the human brain and how our brains haven’t kept up with the changes in the environment and in society: “We were equipped with something hundreds of thousands of years ago; it works perfectly in one sense, but in another it’s creating glitches. Our brain is still partly caveman and it doesn’t know the wallpaper has changed.” Just because the subject matter is serious, however, the trademark Wax humour is still on display as she goes on to explain: “(The brain is) for the basics: ‘eat, fuck, kill’. We need it. On top of that, like a hat, is this more sophisticated brain from about 200,000 years ago. And the two of them are constantly arguing; that’s why I say there are women out there who like to read Martin Heidegger but also want to screw the plumber.”
And so Wax uses mindfulness to help keep depression at bay. Forearmed is forewarned, she explains. This way at least the feelings of depression and anxiety which may still come do not come as so much of a surprise, meaning she can put in place what she needs to care for herself and come out of under the dark clouds in five days rather than five months.
In one of the most poignant moments of the show an audience member asks who her greatest role model and inspiration was and she talks about Alan Rickman and how if it wasn’t for him she wouldn’t be here now. Rickman’s wife is in the audience and Wax’s words prompt a round of applause for the late actor who clearly played a prominent part in her journey.
This journey has made Wax into one of the most well-known campaigners for better mental health and her words on the benefits of mindfulness, in whichever form one wants to pursue it, are deeply important.