April 20, 2018

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There is No Right Way to Meditate and Other Lessons by Yumi Sakugawa

Written and Illustrated by Yumi Sakugawa
Published by Adams


Yumi Sakugawa provides a series of reflections designed to help the reader reflect on their life and stop feeling so pressured in this small collection of loosely linked drawings. Opening with the stark advice that "Sometimes it's okay if the only thing you did today is breathe," with the words leading down to a set of lungs, it's clear that Sakugawa understands the pressure so many people are under and wants to find a way to help. With a combination of advice, humor, and drawings, she sets out to do just that. The question is, does she succeed in her quest?

While the answer is going to depend on the reader, for me, at least, it's a definite yes.


So many books of this type take themselves too seriously. Yumi doesn't, as is made clear by suggesting you get a "dinosaur friend" to scare away a bad mood. She's trying to get you to look at yourself and your life, and while we laugh at the idea of making friends with death (whose favorite holiday is "Day of the Dead, duh!"), her point rings true that we're too quick to get upset at things that don't matter. The funny illustration of death shrugging its shoulders or skating down a skull ramp help bring that advice home.

There's a lot of the abstract in the pages here, as Sakugawa attempts to visually show the idea of letting your thoughts pass through you, or just becoming aware of your own breathing (shown as a series of circles, with each circle having less distractions until we can focus only on the circle itself).  In some ways, it reminds me of poetry comics, where having specific, structured illustrations is less important than giving an impression of what the author wants the reader to visualize and letting their imagination do the rest. It's a bit of a challenge, but the reward is very satisfying.


Not all is so specifically designed to aid in meditation. In other cases, Yumi draws small images to tell her story, whether it's about a theoretical parasite that feeds on your negativity (and looks a lot like Krang) or about trying to listen to the space between your thoughts. As with other areas in the book, they have a lot of playful humor--a face-hugging thing isn't exactly serious--but the goal is to make you reflect, look at yourself and what you do to yourself that's damaging. Sakugawa offers advice on how to make your life better by looking at your approach, and regardless of how much you agree with the spiritual side of her arguments, it's impossible not to want to think about your thoughts.


And ultimately, that's the point here. There is no right way to be affected by her advice. Take some or all of it, but in the end, after you read There is No Right Way to Meditate, you should be thinking about her words and how they can apply to you. When you want something, do you make a plan to get it? Or are you like the person she depicts trapped in a swirling vortex, unable to visualize your way out of your current situation and towards you goal? Do you give yourself time to just think? Or practice self-love? Do you make sure that you aren't allowing negative people to harm you? (I love the idea of a person shooting negativity arrows that you can avoid, one of many illustrations in this section.)

These are the questions Sakugawa asks, pairing them with line art that gets to the point without overdoing it. Her illustrations match her overall theme--relax and let go. It's very good advice, and very good visuals, too.