Ruby Wax opens up about mental health and how to train our brains | Books | Entertainment

Ruby Wax opens up about mental health and how to train our brains | Books | Entertainment


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Ruby Wax’s new book How To Be Human: The Manual is a user’s guide for living

Her new book, How To Be Human: The Manual, is a user’s guide for living, helping readers to navigate all that comes with being a human being – starting with evolution and spanning everything from emotions to thoughts, addiction and forgiveness. 

What makes the book unique is that she has teamed up with a monk and a neuroscientist to get an all-encompassing perspective on the human condition. 

Neuroscientist Ash Ranpura and Buddhist monk Gelong Thubten help Ruby delve into exactly why we do and think what we do. 

Ruby also brings her comedy, insight and personal experiences to the mix, in a bid to help readers understand themselves better and learn to make different choices.

The results are extremely funny, engaging and hugely informative. 

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Ruby’s book includes insights from neuroscientist Ash Ranpura (L) and monk Gelong Thubten (R)


Now, I’m getting images of some supermodel in Russia, of course it’s going to make you feel even more inferior

Ruby Wax


A successful comedian, TV writer and performer for more than 25 years, Ruby has also become a leading spokeswoman on mental health, having talked and written about her depression. 

She says she hopes the book inspires readers to come away thinking: “Oh my God, this is so interesting and I’m laughing.” 

When I meet up with her and Thubten for tea at a Knightsbridge hotel – Ash joined us on the phone from America – the banter that makes the book such a page-turner also makes for a highly entertaining afternoon. 

They are such good pals that Thubten even lives with Ruby at her London home while he is visiting the city to teach mindfulness. 

A stage tour including all three of them will start in September. 

As we settle down to chat, Ruby picks three walnuts from a bowl on the table and lays them out side by side, joking that they represent each of their brains. She teases that Ash’s is the smallest.

When I ask how they all met, she jokes: “A dating agency! We met on Tinder.” They all erupt into laughter. 

Using comedy to open up the discussion around mental heath is something that has made the American comic a national treasure in the UK. 

In 2015 she was appointed OBE for her services to mental health and has a master’s degree in mindfulness-based cognitive therapy from Oxford University. 

Her books, Sane New World and A Mindfulness Guide For The Frazzled, and her successful stage shows such as Losing It and Frazzled, have helped break taboos surrounding mental health. 

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Ruby has helped tackle the taboo surrounding mental health with her written and stage work

She tells me: “Our main theme in this book is, ‘Here’s why evolution hit you in the face like this’. It’s not your fault. Once you know that then there’s something you can do about it. 

“If you read that evolution worked like this and biology works like this you might say, ‘I feel less freakish’. The shame dissolves when you know that that woman across the room thinks the same way and you become a tribe rather than individuals.

“What I like about the book is [it shows] everything that’s a fault is a trade off. It all started to help us. Evolution made us hunt, it made us grab for things and yearn and grasp. There were limited amounts of fruit on the trees. 

“Now, when the fruits are everywhere and big shopping centres are open… we can’t take it. We weren’t born to do this, so that’s why we’re blowing our gaskets.” 

She continues: “It’s not your fault! We had to be addicts, we had to be craving creatures, we have to be selfish, we have to have envy, we have to have comparison. But in those days, we only knew who the neighbour was. Now, I’m getting images of some supermodel in Russia, of course it’s going to make you feel even more inferior. I’m not supposed to see her,” says Ruby, 64, who is married to television producer and director Ed Bye and has three grown-up children. 

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The book explores neuroplasticity and the brain’s ability to change

The book looks at how neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to change, means that we can choose to think and behave differently. 

There are also a number of mindfulness exercises to help with things such as emotion, addiction and compassion. 

“Rather than saying, ‘Just think positive’ and all this **** that you thought on a weekend workshop would solve all your problems, everything in the book is grounded [in science],” adds Ruby. 

“It could never be called a flaky, wishful thinking, dreamcatcher book. Everything is substantiated.” 

Thubten (pronounced Toop-ten) is a former jazz pianist and actor whose wild lifestyle led him to burn out and come close to a heart attack. 

He became a monk at the age of 21 at a monastery in Scotland. His actress mother Indira Joshi played the matriarch in The Kumars At No 42. 

He now teaches mindfulness at businesses such as Google and Facebook, leading law firms, banks, schools, prisons and healthcare institutions. 

Ash is a clinical neurologist and neuroscientist practising in America. 

Why should people understand their mind, I ask. Can we solve all our problems? 

Thubten explains: “Once you understand your biology you understand why you do the things you do. If we can understand our thought processes and maybe even train ourselves to have different ones, our external life will change accordingly. It’s not only about solving particular problems, such as anxiety. That’s part of the picture but it’s more a journey of understanding who you are and why you react the way you do and seeing how to change that.” 

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There are a number of mindfulness exercises to help with things such as emotion and addiction

Ash adds: “If we can, in the book, say, ‘You’re like this because of biology but that’s not the end of the story. The biology can change through habit and through practice’, that’s a really empowering message. And it happens to be extremely true.” 

So how has understanding their own minds improved their lives? 

Ruby says: “I know it’s not my fault and then I know to do something about it. I feel so much better understanding: ‘Oh, I see why I’m so greedy’, ‘Oh, I see why I feel so bad when I see Cara Delevingne’. I see why I feel this way and it gives me a way of forgiving myself.” 

Thubten says: “I used to be filled with self-loathing and I used to be one of these people who beat myself up all the time for the way I am. But through learning these kind of techniques and this way of understanding, it’s helped me become a person who’s happier. It’s also given me tools through which I can help other people.” 

Ash admits: “As a scientist I’m very analytical and I tend to turn things over and over in my head. Just realising, through doing this book, that that’s a habit that’s not necessarily going to lead to a solution, my marriage is much happier, my personal relationships are much happier and my work is much easier.” 

Ruby and Thubten actually met at a conference in Sweden two years ago where they were both speaking. 

She later met Ash, whom she fondly calls “a genius”, in a friend’s kitchen. 

“Thubten spoke so eloquently,” she says. “He teaches at Google and Facebook, the big boys, and if they can understand, I figure he really knows how to communicate. He has a good personality and he’s pretty ****ing funny,” whispers Ruby, before the pair burst into giggles.

Thubten adds: “When I’m teaching in London I stay at Ruby’s and we meditate in the mornings and we talk about all this kind of stuff.”

He must be a calming influence to have around, I tell Ruby, who then jokes: “No, I’m calming for him. I advise him.” 

I ask them what issues people share with them when they give their talks around the world and Thubten says: “Stress and a racing mind.” 

Ruby adds: “That their minds are racing and just not knowing how to grab the steering wheel.” 

Speaking about the effect social media is having on the human psyche, Thubten says: “You start needing other people to validate you by how many likes you get. If people can learn to use social media wisely, without getting too sucked in, then it’s fine. Otherwise it can make you really unhappy. It’s all about balance, just like with food and exercise and all these things.” 

Ruby adds: “I use Twitter. But I don’t look at what people say because I know that would destroy me. If somebody sees me with eyes that aren’t approving, I don’t want to know about it. I don’t look for approval that way – it would kill me.” 

Ruby has now launched the Frazzled Café network, hosted at Marks & Spencer cafes, where people gather to talk openly, encouraged by a trained “facilitator” who helps them seek further help. 

Ruby says: “Part of the strain is not having people to talk with about what’s really going on. They can’t tell their families or they don’t want to be a burden and now they have this group. Which was how we were supposed to be in the first place – a tribe.”

How To Be Human: The Manual, by Ruby Wax, is published by Penguin Life at £14.99 hardback. Details of Frazzled Cafés are at frazzledcafe.org



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