Throughout “Stop Missing Your Life,” author Cory Muscara weaves snapshots from his early, six-month meditation retreat in Burma. Seeking guidance through physical and emotional discomfort, often Cory was offered this wisdom: “Be more present.” That forced him to understand the operation of his mind, and how discomfort serves to distract us from growth.
Through the course of his renunciation of the worry “what does this mean to me?” Cory identified a series of steps (summarized below). The end of that journey is described as the book reaches its close. Readers might wonder why it is included, for Cory does not claim to understand it. Meditating twenty hours a day, eating only two simple meals, on day 165 Cory arises and feels a deep sense of connection to the world around him. Colors and sensations are heightened, and settings become deeply immersive. His attention is captive to a world that is alive in ways rarely appreciated.
What I find disappointing is that Muscara leaves this experience to the end of the book, as though it is something abnormal. To those allowed creative expression in childhood, it should be familiar. We felt this way when the mind was united.
His vignette is a valuable signpost regarding the potential of presence, but also a key to diagnosis in more depth. Muscara ends the book with prescriptions for managing the phobia (“fear of missing out”, or FOMA) that makes us captive to social media. This begins in childhood, when parents concerned with giving their child “the best start in life” deny them the opportunity to play with themselves – time for an unstructured exploration of the possibilities for experience. That Cory cannot remember his childish joy indicates how early we have begun breaking up the minds of our children.
This etiology is implicit in Muscara’s logic. He assumes that we are captive to inner demons, a self-critical internal dialog that stands between us and experience. He uses the mnemonic “FACES” for his prescription: focus, allowing, curiosity, and embodiment. Muscara provides meditative exercises for each of these qualities. These are constructive and accessible. I recommend the book both for laypeople and therapists. I have already begun applying his insights in my practice.
But the insights Mascara offers are muted by the lack of an organized theory of mind. While he laments the dissociation (or dis-integration) of the mind resulting from trauma, he does not offer Freud’s “super-ego” (my “social identity”) as the unifying force that brings internal healing. There is some vague mention of an identity that “floats above,” but no explanation of how it arises nor illumination of its unique purpose and powers.
I also warn that those familiar with Buddhist doctrine will find this a limited transmission of Gautama’s wisdom. Comparing to the eight-fold way, we find analogs for each of Muscara’s focal virtues – and four others to boot. In his choices, Muscara excludes alternative paths to healing.
As in the writings found at the Greater Good Science Center, Muscara caters to the neurosis of modern America. In that context, the seduction of meditation is that we control our journey. No higher authority holds us to account.
Muscara is conscious of this and starts the book with indictment of “spiritual bypassing.” Too many practitioners seek happiness through suppression of negative thinking. Muscara opens the window to true joy, found in proof of the capacity of our minds to heal through growth. His is a powerful and constructive message, and I recommend the book to seekers and healers alike.
That recommendation comes with a caution. Muscara outlines self-regulated parts therapy. The reader may be drawn into the inference that his meditative practices are prophylactic. Rather, the seeker of healing can find that goal elusive, frustrating, and re-traumatizing if it is undertaken without the support of a trained therapist.