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In Search of Wellness

The bookstore displays the unbearable heaviness of well-being...and lights a path forward

To get to the Starbucks where I meet my sister once a week to reassure myself that I’ve evolved since we were children when I treated her like my personal canary in a coal mine and gave her a life-long fear of spiders, I must walk through the wellness section of the Indigo bookstore. Actually, it’s not the wellness section: it’s well-being to the left and self-help on the right, yet another binary in life where I feel compelled to declare which team I’m on.

I choose well-being because I can’t help myself and am immediately hit by a wall of mindfulness. There’s mindfulness for children, mindfulness for students, mindful parenting, mindful running, mindful walking, mindful eating, mindful sex. There’s even a mindfulness colouring book that “packs an extra punch of calm” for those who like calm that assaults them. Looking at the pastel rainbow of mindfulness books, I feel the first sparks of a kindling anxiety. I turn to the Blue Zones.

There are pockets around the world where mindfulness isn’t something that has to be practiced because the present moment is a place where people are happy to hang out. These are the Blue Zones, the far-flung Shangri-Las where people often live to be 100, but not 100 like we see it in North America: people wheeled out in plaid blankets whom we hope will endorse our worst habits. No. It’s 100 where people walk without assistance and do things outdoors, usually in a garden, and laugh with their many centenarian friends.

100 looks like too much of a stretch goal, so I turn to the international wellness shelves where Scandanavian countries dominate because they’re the happiest places on earth when they’re among the most suicidal. The Danes offer a comfy hygge wellness, the Swedes a lagom of commonsensical IKEA moderation, and the Finns want us to strip down to our underwear and get totally päntsdrunk. Japan offers the magic of wellness in the uncluttered manner of Marie Kondo. But there’s something not quite right about the appropriation of another culture’s well-being. Maybe the tough guys closer to home have the answer.

DISCIPLINE EQUALS FREEDOM bellows the stone-jawed ex-Navy SEAL. Grab the day by the throat and throttle the life out of it is the clarion call of wellness that comes from the people who celebrate the joy of toughing it out. It’s a sea of men, with the exception of one female, a badass who stands guard in a power pose at the doorway to my favourite part of the wellness section.

Wellness through profanity. Wtf happened? When did wellness get a chip on its shoulder? When did we start believing that feeling good is something we have to curse into being? It’s as if we’ve been drawn into an abusive relationship with wellness that only responds when we pretend we don’t need it. When we don’t give a *&^% anymore, we enable wellness run roughshod over us.

The wellness section, a microcosm of the thousands of books available to ease our minds and heal our bodies, is overwhelming. As if it knows what it has done to me, Indigo has set up a table offering an array of scented therapy candles. Light a single candle from which Buddha said a thousand other candles can be lit. A-ha! All I need from the wellness section is a single candle to light my unique path toward well-being.

Relieved, I choose the mindfulness colouring book.

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    - MARCUS AURELIUS

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