Thursday, February 24, 2011

My Review: The Mindfulness Revolution - Leading Psychologists, Scientists, Artists, and Meditatiion Teachers on the Power of Mindfulness in Daily Life

Browse inside the book, courtesy of Shambhala Publications.

There is probably no hotter topic in psychology and neuroscience research than mindfulness. Shambhala Sun editor Barry Boyce has assembled a "who's who" of mindfulness researchers, teachers, and authors in the new book, The Mindfulness Revolution (Shambhala Publications, 2011).

I was fortunate to read a preview copy of the book (for the Kindle, so no page numbers, alas) and found myself both grateful for and frustrated with the offerings. Many of my favorite teachers and authors are represented here (most notably Pema Chodron, Dan Siegel, Ellen Langer, Matthieu Ricard, Daniel Goleman, and Ronald Siegel), but that is part of my problem with the book - there's not much that is new to anyone who has been reading in the field for any length of time.

However, for the mainstream reader who is not Buddhist or who does not read much about psychological research, this book will be a treasure-trove of teachings, observations, and revelations about the health benefits of mindfulness practice.

Boyce pays appropriate homage to Jon Kabat-Zinn, the doctor who basically single-handedly founded the field of mindfulness research outside of its Buddhist tradition with his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction method, developed at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. Kabat-Zinn has two essays in the book.

Likewise, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and Chogyam Trungpa - all early promoters of Buddhist meditation in America - are included. In fact, regular readers of Buddhist magazines will recognize many of the authors.

My interest is more in the research and applications around psychotherapy and neuroscience, so I was drawn to the essays by Dan Siegel (The Proven Benefits of Mindfulness), which was little more than a simple overview of some of his recent work (for those who have read his books); Ellen Langer (Paying Attention to Our Own Mind and Body), a nice piece I had not seen before; Matthieu Ricard (This Is Your Brain on Mindfulness), a good overview of much of his other, more in-depth work; and a nice article from Ronald Siegel (From Me to Us) that, again, offers an overview of the material he covers in more depth in his academic writings.

I wanted more science - but then this would not be the introductory book that I think was intended. Maybe there will be other publishers who want to fill that niche by collecting the best of the mindfulness research that has been conducted and published in he past decade.

Where this book eventually caught my interest and attention was in the essays by people with whom I was not familiar, and who offered more personal, grounded, and insightful essays on mindfulness as an integral part of their daily lives.

Among those essays, the ones that stick out in my mind are Karen Maezen Miller's essay on housework (Do Dishes, Rake Leaves), Sue Moon's tender meditation on aging and "senior moments" (Senior Moment, Wonderful Moment), an excellent essay from Bob Howard called "Wild Raspberries," and an essay from someone new to me, Saki Santorelli, who offered an insightful piece, "The Wounded Places."

There is something in here for nearly everyone - so although this is not the book I wanted it to be, it is an excellent introduction to mindfulness practice, filled with insights, lessons on how to do mindfulness, and ways to apply mindfulness practice to other areas of our lives.

As an example, here are some interesting observations from Steve Flowers in his essay, "Mindfully Shy" (something with which I can relate, since I have social anxiety, essentially shyness on steroids):
The essential components of mindfulness are antithetical to the components of shyness that create suffering:

• As mindfulness is nonjudgmental, you can be accepting of yourself rather than self-critical.
• As mindfulness is a moment-to-moment, here-and-now awareness, you can actually be here rather than in some imagined future you feel anxious about.
• As mindfulness is turning toward and being with, you can stop avoiding the thoughts and feelings that scare you and stop generating the self-criticism and shame that can be fueled by avoidance.
• As mindfulness is compassionate and openhearted awareness, you can extend compassion to yourself rather than condemnation.
• As mindfulness is awakening to the fullness of being, you can stop identifying with a false and limiting sense of self.
• As mindfulness is kind and warm, you can free yourself from the prison of self-consciousness and extend the same generosity of spirit to others that you extend to yourself.

Mindfulness has no agenda. It’s a way of being rather than a means to an end. Shifting into the perspective of mindful awareness, you simply are where you are, as you are. You can discover a place here, within yourself, that isn’t governed by the nagging critic and the ever-striving but always insufficient performer in your head. When centered in this place of wholeness, you can make mindful choices and experience greater freedom. However, these benefits don’t come overnight or all at once; they are generally discovered along the way rather than achieved at some specific point in time. It can take a long time to discover your wholeness and completeness, even though it’s been your essential nature all along. Be patient.
Even though I know all of this stuff (part of why I started meditating back in my 20s was to cope with the social anxiety), it's still good to read a new angle, some gentle reminders.

The book is due out on March 8, 2011 - but it can be pre-ordered now from Amazon or directly from Shambhala Publications.

Here is the Table of Contents:
Introduction: Anyone Can Do It, and It Changes Everything

Part One: How to Practice Mindfulness
What is Mindfulness? - Jan Chozen Bays, MD
A Receptive, Respectful Awareness - Jack Kornfield
Is Mindfulness for You? - Susan Smalley and Diana Winston
Here, Now, Aware - Joseph Goldstein
Mindfulness Meditation Instructions - Bob Stahl and Elisha Goldstein
Mindfulness and Awareness - Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
A Mindfulness FAQ - Jeff Brantley, MD
Mindfulness for Everyone - Norman Fischer
Why Mindfulness Matters - Jon Kabat-Zinn

Part Two: Mindfulness in Daily Life
Mindfulness Makes Us Happy - Thich Nhat Hanh
Do Dishes, Rake Leaves - Karen Maezen Miller
Wild Raspberries - Bob Howard
Let Your Passion Cook - Edward Espe Brown
Digital Mindfulness - Steve Silberman
Your Mind and Your Money - Kristi Nelson
At Work, Be a Don’t-Know-It-All - Michael Carroll
Mindfulness, Photography, and Living an Artistic Life - Andy Karr & Michael Wood
Making Music - Madeline Bruser
Senior Moment, Wonderful Moment - Sue Moon

Part Three: Mindfulness, Health, and Healing
Paying Attention to Our Own Mind and Body - Ellen Langer
This is Your Brain on Mindfulness - Matthieu Ricard
The Proven Benefits of Mindfulness - Daniel Siegel
Living Well With Chronic Pain - Vidyamala Burch
Sickness is Like the Weather - Toni Bernhard
Healing Trauma - Claude Anshin Thomas
Mindfulness and Addiction Recovery - Lawrence Peltz
Mindfully Shy - Steve Flowers
Mindful Eating - Jan Chozen Bays
The Wounded Places - Saki F. Santorelli

Part Four: Interpersonal Mindfulness
The Great Mirror of Relationship - Dzogchen Ponlop
The Natural Warmth of the Heart - Pema Chödrön
From Me to Us - Ronald D. Siegel
Are You Listening? - David Rome and Hope Martin
Stop, Go, Wait - Susan Chapman
Parenting with Mindful Awareness - Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn
Mindfulness for Children - Susan Kaiser Greenland
A Mindful Consumer Can Help Change the World - Daniel Goleman
Taking Responsibility for the World’s Well-Being - The Fourteenth Dalai Lama
Creating a Mindful Society - Barry Boyce