The true story of an ordinary woman who explored 10 techniques of meditation with Cambridge neuroscientists, from mindfulness to psychedelics, to discover which method had saved her from paralysis and blindness.
When Vanessa Potter woke up one day to find herself blind and paralysed, she was stunned to discover that it was meditating, not drugs, that saved her mind. Convinced she had more to learn, she embarked on her own consciousness road-trip, exploring the major schools of meditation, along with hypnotherapy and psychedelics.
In order to objectively record her journey, Cambridge neuroscientists measured her brain activity, with their observations and results featured within the book.
Offering a detailed snapshot of each practice, Vanessa provides an unusually voyeuristic glimpse into how powerful meditating can be. After 300 hours of sitting still, the scientists and Vanessa reveal whether meditation lived up to the hype and provided the key to contentment.
Funny and wry, this is a unique take on citizen science, delving beneath the surface of meditation to reveal the fascinating world of the mind and the possibilities within. Books on meditation normally teach us how to meditate – not about what happens when we try.
I love meditation, although I don’t do it as regularly as I’d like to or need to. When Wellbeck publishing emailed and asked if I’d review Finding My Right Mind by Vanessa Potter I jumped at the chance.
Vanessa woke up one day and could not see or move the only warning she had was the previous day she had what seemed to be a snow storm in front of her eyes. A trip to A&E had not given Vanessa any idea as to what was wrong.
Trying to imagine how Vanessa felt with no sight and paralysed was near to impossible, the fear and total helplessness coupled with the anxiety I can only but imagine. Vanessa coped with this by visualising a beach, imagining her feet in the sand and the warmth of the sun. This helped her through those days that must have been so difficult.
The illness set Vanessa on a path to research 10 different forms of meditation, whilst wearing a device that monitored her brain waves. What I loved most was Vanessa’s honesty, she found some of the techniques harder than others and was truthful about this. I felt like I was there with her and knew how she reacted to some of the practices I would feel pretty similar.
The Vipassana sounded really challenging, eleven days of complete silence, no paper, pens, books or phones, as well as little sleep The thought makes me go slightly cold, my mind can’t quite process it. Vanessa struggled at times but when it finished she was able to see the positives it had brought into her life.
This book made me laugh out loud at times and also made me think about my own life and changes I could make for my well being. This paragraph near the end of the book where Vanessa sums up how the experience has benefitted her life…
I’m not a different person living a different life. I’m just a slightly better version of who I was before. I’ve stopped spreading myself so thinly, putting my energy into a few friendships, rather than spray gunning time across too many. I don’t have a smaller waistline or any fewer wrinkles, and my wardrobe still needs clearing. I think I smile more – Ed tells me I do. My liver is a bit healthier too – I rarely have that glass of wine now.
I’ve learnt to say no. And, not just to others, but to pressures I impose upon myself. I still have to–do lists, but they’re shorter. I consider these side effects of my practice, rather than the focus they were at the start.
I had to have an endoscopy a few weeks ago and was terrified, I’ve always enjoyed visualisation meditations and after reading Finding My Right Mind I thought I’d use visualisation to help me and it worked. I meditated leading up to it, transported myself elsewhere during and I remained calm throughout!
This is such an interesting read and one I thoroughly enjoyed and would highly recommend.
All About Vanessa
Before becoming a self-experimenting science communicator, Vanessa Potter spent 16 years as an award-winning broadcast producer working in the London ad industry. In October 2012 she was struck down by a rare neurological illness that temporarily rendered her blind and paralysed. Following her recovery, she collaborated with neuroscientists at Cambridge University to design an interactive immersive exhibition, based on her therapeutic use of meditation, and gave a TEDx talk about her experiences. Finding Her Right Mind is her second book; her first, Patient H69 narrates how her curiosity for answers led her to investigate the science behind her lost sight.
Where to find Vanessa