Miguel Chen - I Wanna Be Well [book] (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Miguel Chen

I Wanna Be Well 📕 (2018)

Wisdom Publications

There’s nothing I like more than a punk biography (or autobiography). I read a ton of them. That’s not what this is. I Wanna Be Well:How a Punk Found Peace and You Can Too by Miguel Chen would be better described as a self-help book. (That’s not to say that we don’t learn plenty about Chen. He’s more than happy to shine some light on his past to help drive home the point he’s trying to illustrate.) That term might make you nervous, and it should. You’re probably thinking about the Oprah Winfrey book club or some such bullshit. Something to sell to middle aged housewives with too much disposable income. That’s not what this is either.

So what kind of self-help book does a bass playing yoga instructor from Wyoming (with help from Rod Meade Sperry) write? I Wanna Be Well is for minds looking for contentment outside of Western mood-altering medicine. (Or maybe worse yet, self medicating.) It’s for folks who are open to trying to improve their lives in a different way. It’s for people who know that money can’t buy happiness, and couldn’t afford it anyway. In other words, it’s a self-help book for the rest of us. Punks even.

We do learn about many of the things that made Chen the man he is today. As a teenager, he lost his mother and his sister only seven months apart. He struggled with addiction. He’s suffered from depression and anxiety. The death of Teenage Bottlerocket bandmate Brandon Carlisle was another heavy blow. He shares his pain and mistakes as well as his victories. He also names the two books that started him on his path to wellness. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz and Dharma Punx by Noah Levine are the twin pillars of his philosophy.

I Wanna Be Well is broken up into 26 short, manageable chapters. Many are named after punk songs. (Like the book title itself, but I’m sure you already knew that.) Descendents provide the inspiration for three chapters. (Everything Sucks, I Like Food, I Don’t Wanna Grow Up.) Others include DRI (Who Am I?), Menzingers (On the Impossible Past), Swingin’ Utters (A Juvenile Product of the Working Class), Lagwagon (Let’s Talk About Feelings) and Mixtapes (Even on the Worst Nights). I’m sure there are more that I missed.

Each chapter introduces an idea and also includes a practical application. The concepts are based on both his experience as a yoga instructor and the practice of his Buddhist faith. Chen doesn’t push the religious aspect of it too hard. Most of the truths he presents are universal to most religions, or no religion at all. He encourages you to use the things that work for you personally, and to discard the things that don’t. In case you’re worried about it, I did not find it to be at all preachy. For the sake of giving I Wanna Be Well a fair shake, I at least tried to do everything that the book suggested.

A few chapters resonated more with me than others. Chapter 4 stresses the importance of letting go of the past. Chapter 5 talks about not stressing out about the future either. Chapter 7 is all about that positive mental attitude, you know, PMA. (I know it can seem like bullshit, but it works!) Chapter 12 is about giving freely without expecting anything in return. Chapter 15 reminds us not to let our suffering define us. Chapter 17 talks about the importance of forgiveness. Chapter 22 might be the most poignant to me. It covers how we can actually enjoy the aging process.

Nothing from I Wanna Be Well struck me as particularly profound, but the majority of its premises are worthwhile. It’s a quick read, and Chen is gifted at explaining difficult concepts in simple terms. (It includes a reading list for those who want to dive in deeper.) It definitely reinforced some previously known truths, especially the ideas about being grateful and of living mindfully. The breathing and visualization exercises also helped me to relax and work through a couple of things. My personal struggles are different than yours, but it’s likely that this book contains things that could improve your life.