14 September 2007

There You Are

I actually posted a partial review of this already, but I hadn't finished the book at that point. I have now finished Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are. And I still recommend it highly to anyone, at any level, with any interest at all in mindfulness.

I will say that my favorite part of the book is the first section, which Kabat-Zinn titles The Bloom of the Present Moment. Primarily it's about learning to pay attention to the stuff going on around you. It's far too easy to get lost in our thoughts and miss most of our actual life. Sometimes we need to get lost and not see what's going on, but most of the time it's better if we're aware, if we're actually participating and contributing with full awareness. This section of the book gives some specific ideas to try and cultivate mindfulness, and some exercises to think about.

The next section is titled The Heart of Practice. It is more specifically about mindfulness meditation, with suggestions for ways to practice deliberately. I like his imagery, though I actually prefer the Vipassana meditation that Bataan uses at his camps. I find that images tend to get in the way. Though I suspect that for a complete beginner, they might be more helpful. They give the mind something to 'do' so that it doesn't get distracted as quickly or as easily.

The last section is In the Spirit of Mindfulness, and is primarily about bringing mindfulness into your everyday life, with specific examples from Kabat-Zinn's experiences. Some of the segments I enjoyed immensely; others didn't really resonate with me. I expect that other readers would feel the same, relating to some of the segments and not others. But I do think there should be something there for everyone.

My overall impression matches my impression based on the first section alone: a valuable book for experienced practitioners, for beginners, and even for the just-plain-curious. There's no insistence, no right way or wrong way: just some suggestions for exploring your own mind/self/being. Kabat-Zinn does specifically mention a few Buddhist ideas, and a Hindu one (ahimsa: nonharming), but in a 'think about this for a minute' manner. Food for thought, as it were. Highly recommended.

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