November 19, 2008

Book review: The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Mindfulness (Anne Ihnen and Carolyn Flynn)

You know mindfulness has gone mainstream when there’s an Idiot’s Guide to it.  I admit that I approached this book with a good bit of trepidation.  Would this simplify mindfulness in an attempt to make in approachable by anyone but ultimately rob it of its meaning and power?

Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. Ihnen and Flynn are both meditation practitioners, and this book reflects their knowledge and backgrounds nicely.  Even though the text does have a Buddhist focus, it also makes it a point to point out the various contemplative practices that exist within other spiritual practices, including Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, and even non-spiritual based forms of contemplation including Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response and the nature-centered practices of Emerson and Thoreau.  Even though the book does include some sitting meditation practices, it does include discussion of movement-based forms of contemplation, including yoga, tai chi, qi gong, and others.

Going beyond the cushion, Ihnen and Flynn take mindfulness into interpersonal relationships, and even into the food we eat (and how we eat it). There are three complete chapters dedicated to eating mindfully, including references to Slow Food and local food eating, and there’s a chapter on multi-tasking, reflecting current research that multi-tasking isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be.  This book takes an overall approach to mindfulness that is holistic and impressive in its scope without getting bogged down in terminology and ritual.  The resource and further reading list is impressive and broad, ranging from Pema Chodron and Joseph Goldstein to Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Eckhart Tolle, Barbara Kingsolver, Michael Pollan, The Center for Mindful Eating, and a host of others.

Ultimately, this book goes beyond the average, shallow self-help texts found virtually everywhere, and does more than offer pithy platitudes.  My only concern is that because this excellent book is a “Complete Idiot’s Guide,” that it will end up in the self-help dustbin where it doesn’t belong; my hope is that this book will help to make mindfulness approachable and practical for anyone, regardless of spirituality (or lack thereof), time, or perception that they just “don’t have the time” to just stop and simply breathe.

From Alpha Books and available at your local, independent bookstore. (Tell ’em you saw it on ElephantJournal.com!)

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