Review: Mindfulness For Beginners

Title: Mindfulness For Beginners
Author: Jon Kabat-Zinn PhD
Printed Pages: 184
Publish Year: 2016 (Sounds True)
Recommended For: Those somewhat familiar with mindfulness meditation, that want to immerse themselves a little deeper.

First Lines: Welcome to this program that’s called Mindfulness For Beginners. I’m delighted to be working with you in this way, and I do so in the hope that whatever it was that drew you to the allure of mindfulness, that that very impulse can be explored and nurtured so that it will grow and develop. Because no on comes to a program such as this by accident.”

 

Review

I listened to the audiobook version of this book. In fact, I think this was probably an audio lecture before it was adapted to printed form. Thinking about it, I’m curious how the written work would come across, as Jon Kabat-Zinn uses a very conversational style in this work. It’s actually quite comforting, Kabat-Zinn reminds me of the Jewish uncle I wish I had–his voice is soothing and his demeanor is incredibly cheerful (in a refreshingly sincere way).

Kabat-Zinn is a powerful figure in the modern mindfulness movement. He’s the founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, a scientist, a writer, and a meditation teacher. He has helped bring mindfulness into the mainstream.

The book is divided into two sessions. The first is a narrative on what mindfulness is and how it can be used in our daily lives, with the second session being a series of guided meditations.

Jon Kabat-Zinn

Jon Kabat-Zinn

The meditations are useful for beginners, but perhaps a little esoteric if you are completely green to the practice. I worry that meditation skeptics might be a little turned off when they’re asked to listen to a raisin, but if this work is considered with an open mind the reader is bound to find some value along the way.

A common theme is a phrase that Kabat-Zinn is famous for coining: “awarenessing”. I appreciate this idea–turning ‘awareness’ into a verb, inspiring one to be active in an activity that we spend most of our lives attending to only subconsciously.

Selected Lines:

As long as you’re breathing, there’s more right with you than there is wrong.


As a beginner to meditation it is very important to know that meditation is not about shutting off your thinking or shutting down your thinking. It’s not saying “it would be better if you didn’t think”, and that we are trying to suppress all thought and have the mind be silent. You try to suppress your thinking, you’re going to end up with a gigantic headache. It’s like trying to stop the ocean from waving; it’s in the nature of the surface of the ocean to wave, just like it’s in the nature of the mind to wave and to secrete these little thoughts. But if we get caught in the thoughts and we self-identify with them, “that’s me”, “or that’s not me”, then we are really caught. That’s clinging.


The only person that you have the possibility of being like is yourself, and that’s really the challenge of mindfulness.


My rating: 3.5/5 – It’s a joy to read (or even better, listen to). This book might not be the best introduction to meditation for someone completely unfamiliar with the practice, but it’s definitely worth including in your knowledge base as you develop your own practice.

Review: Why Buddhism Is True

Why Buddhism Is True cover

Title: Why Buddhism Is True
Author: Robert Wright
Printed Pages: 337
Publish Year: 2017 (Simon & Schuster)
Recommended For: Meditation skeptics, those that find psychology and neurology fascinating, and anyone that wants proof that Buddhism-cultivated mindfulness meditation actually works.

First Lines: “At the risk of overdramatizing the human condition: Have you ever seen the movie The Matrix?”

Review

Much of my recent non-fiction reading has been focused on philosophy, particularly about mindfulness meditation and Buddhism. So naturally, a book with the curious title Why Buddhism Is True was going to pique my interest. Coupling that with the fact that the book was written by prize-winning author Robert Wright and came with a stunning list of rave reviews, this book became required reading.

I breezed through the pages, constantly highlighting passage after passage. Wright’s writing flows with conversational tone, and is sprinkled with his sardonic humor. Drawing from centuries worth of cognitive research, he sews together the science and philosophy of meditative practice. He highlights how our brains are built to deceive us and how now, more than ever, many of the things our brains evolved to do for us are no longer as useful as they might have once been, and, in some cases, do more harm than good. We evolved to survive in this world, not to see it as it actually is.

The thing surprised me the most about this book was how veiled the Buddhism aspect seemed to be. Sure, quotes from various Buddhist canon was used to introduce the topics and articles, but if you’re looking for a book that will convince you to become a Buddhist, this isn’t it. The book’s subtitle–The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment–offers a much greater clue of what the book is actually about. What many readers might not realize is how much of Buddhism is linked to mindfulness meditation, how the practice is essentially the essence of the religion. Mindfulness meditation is growing in popularity, especially from a secular standpoint. Many of today’s meditators would not consider their practice to be religious, but this book might make the reader realize that Buddhism can be stripped-down to certain truths which Wright aims to prove.

What this book also doesn’t do is teach you how to be a meditator. It provides you with plenty of evidence as to why you should start your own practice, but you’ll need to go elsewhere for actual instruction.

As someone that meditates regularly, I didn’t need this book to kickstart my practice; however, it did motivate me to become a little more enthused about what I was doing. It offers new insights into how our minds work–and more importantly, how they don’t. If nothing else, you should walk away from this book with an updated attitude and new perspective towards both your sense of self and others.

Selected Lines:

Our brains are designed to, among other things, delude us.


Natural selection doesn’t “want” us to be happy, after all; it just “wants” us to be productive, in its narrow sense of productive. And the way to make us productive is to make the anticipation of pleasure very strong but the pleasure itself not very long-lasting.


Buddhism offers an explicit diagnosis of the problem and a cure. And the cure, when it works, brings not just happiness but clarity of vision: the actual truth about things, or at least something way, way closer to that than our everyday view of them.


Imagine if our negative feelings, or at least lots of them, turned out to be illusions, and we could dispel them by just contemplating them from a particular vantage point.


If you accept the idea that many of our most troublesome feelings are in one sense or another illusions, then meditation can be seen as, among other things, a process of dispelling illusions.


My Rating: 4/5 – For helping me realize that my consciousness is really only interested in marketing my thoughts and actions without a care about how much deception is involved in the process.