IT’S World Book Day today so I’d like to discuss some of my favourite books as they relate to the practice and understanding of mindfulness. Books can be a problem for people who want to learn mindfulness, and I’ve found this to be especially the case among Scottish people. Hopefully without generalising too much Scots can be a bit too intellectual in their pursuit of truth, beauty and the other big things in life. And learning a lot about something is not the same as learning in order to practise something. In fact it’s just like the inverse correlation between sales of cook books – rising – and amount of cooking being done – falling. Often people use reading about a subject as an unconscious excuse not to practise.
Moreover I have seen a trend repeatedly over the last 20 years of people who want to try whatever is the next new thing, especially if it has a sense of “spirituality” or ancient wisdom about it. My own Tibetan Buddhist teacher back in about 2002 once told a group of us to find the right teacher then stick with them for a long time, rather than flit from one to another in rapid succession. He was absolutely right. Human beings are novelty addicts, and this applies to seeking great truths as much as fashions. When we go from one thing to another, no matter how wise or useful it is, we miss the essential experience of deepening and strengthening practices and the insights they give us. Better to go deep, stick with one thing that we find really benefits us, and work with it for years perhaps, until you have truly gained all that this practice can give you. I still practise the basic breathing awareness every day, almost 20 years since I first tried it, and it still refreshes, restores, relaxes me, while I gain new perspectives on life and insights about my own life from doing it. It sounds ridiculous that noticing your own everyday breathing can give such results, especially if you’ve been doing it several times a day for two decades. Yet it works, and the neuroscientists, psychologists and doctors have shown that it works at a mental health and physical brain level.
So to books. Read to understand mindfulness, and read to analyse the scientific evidence to reassure yourself that you’re not falling for yet another shallow fad. University of Oxford Professor of Clinical Psychology Mark Williams and Danny Penman’s co-authored book Mindfulness: A Practical Guide To Finding Peace In A Frantic World is in my view the best overall general text on mindfulness, full of the science behind it, but also what it entails, and how to do it. And it has a really handy free CD of eight audio recordings of practices so you can be guided by them at home.
There are many other mindfulness books including by pioneering researchers such as Doctor Jon Kabat-Zinn and neuroscientist Richard Davidson but stick to one book and re-read it several times to let it all sink in deeply. Other good general guides that are less highbrow than Mark Williams’s one include Ken Verni’s Practical Mindfulness: A Step By Step Guide, a beautiful book to look at as well as easy to read, and a little gem called Mindfulness On The Go by the American paediatrician Jan Chozen Bays, who combines her medical career with being the abbess of a Zen monastery in Oregon. This little book, which can fit into the pocket of a pair of jeans, has 25 simple practices that those who live in the Zen centre do in a daily rotation.
Now to the really deep stuff if you’re interested. Two books on Buddhism have been great friends to me for the past 20 years or so. What The Buddha Taught by Sri Lankan monk Walpola Sri Rahula is generally recognised as the finest explanation of what this remarkable man taught 2,500 years ago. Alongside the mindfulness practices that the Buddha developed for the benefit of himself and others, Rahula explains the Buddha’s truly wise and still relevant advice on everything from financial matters, ethical entrepreneurship, family relationships and of course the all-pervasive nature of the unreliable, volatile minds we have. I must have read this book 50 times or more.
The Dhammapada is a collection of sayings of the Buddha, compiled some centuries after the Buddha lived but still before the time of Jesus. It is full of teachings that still have the power to make us think. The very first lines are: “All our experiences are preceded by mind, led by mind, created by mind.” This is a fundamental truth which we still struggle to understand.
Alongside these truly great works are the two classics of American philosopher and naturalist Henry David Thoreau. His Walden is the greatest hymn to nature and simple living ever written, while his speech-turned-essay called Civil Disobedience inspired everyone from Tolstoy to Gandhi to Martin Luther King. This is applied mindfulness in action, and the two books can change your life dramatically.
Finally it would be falsely modest of me not to mention my own volumes of writings on Mindful Living. They aim to help people see how to apply mindfulness in everyday real life situations. People have been kind enough to say they carry the books with them in their handbags or have them at their bedside cabinet to read before going to bed.
But remember, above all else: practise, practise, practise. Reading should be a stimulus to do the work, not a sneaky way of avoid it.
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Source : HeraldScotland