Exploring the power of the mind #bookreview

healing powersI first came across the term “mindfullness” in the context of a new safety campaign at work. At the time I thought it was yet another buzz term winging its way across the Atlantic; a new trend about which we would hear endlessly for a year or so before it fizzled out like so many others.

But I kept bumping up against the term in newspapers and magazines and in radio interviews although these didn’t seem to have anything to do with safety awareness. Various ‘celebs’ seemed to be getting super excited about this mindfulness malarky  (a development which is guaranteed to get my eyes rolling). Over time certain expressions associated with this concept wormed their way into my head, the chief one of which was “being in the moment” whatever that meant. Sounded very hippy drippy to me.

It’s taken a while for me to get over that initial suspicion and I don’t claim to be anything like an expert but this year I’ve come round to thinking that there is after all more to mindfulness than I’d expected.

My ‘ah ha’ moment (conversion is far too strong a term) came during a mindfulness introductory day run by my local authority. I decided to go with an open mind. Fortunately the tutor was someone who had extensive research evidence to back up claims about the ability of the regular practice of mindfulness techniques to affect our brains, our sense of well being and our health.

Fresh with that new found insight, but wanting more, I went in search of some sitble reading material.

Oh dear. There is an awful lot of dross out there on this topic. Some books I came across contained about as much useful information as a box of detergent. Massive claims about how the practice can change your life. But little evidence about how….

But then, via NetGalley I came across a book by a man who is considered the leading expert on mindfulness, the man credited with starting the whole shabang.

Jon Kabat-ZinnJon Kabat-Zinn  has a Ph.D. in molecular biology. His work in the area of stress reduction and what became known as mindfulness, began in 1979 when he founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. He’s developed the practice based on extensive research studies.

In his book, The Healing Power of Mindfulness, he shares examples from his decades of experience working with people suffering anxiety, depression and stress. He’s clear that it isn’t a cure for all situations  – he doesn’t claim it cures serious illness for example – though it can boost the immune system to make you less susceptible to certain diseases. It’s more a case that the regular practice of mindfulness techniques helps rewire the mind so we can each deal with our particular challenges and make the most of what we have, whatever that might be.

Through the book we learn about a concept called brain plasticity (the astonishing ability of the brain change and reorganise itself – as evidenced by studies  showing the effects of meditation of Buddhist monks. Now in case you were alarmed, thinking that you’d have to become a monk to reap the benefits of mindfullness, rest assured Kabat-Zinn isn’t expecting that of you. In fact, some years ago he deliberately removed the Buddhist element to his teachings so that it would have wider appeal.

Reading The Healing Power of Mindfulness, I also, finally, got to understand what that phrase “being in the moment” really means – it’s about coming to terms with things as they are, not worrying about the future or revisiting the past. But just thinking about the present moment.

Stress is cause by being here, but wanting to be there, or being in the present but wanting to be in the future. It’s a split that tears you apart inside. … It takes a huge amount of fortitude and motivation to accept what is ….

This is not an easy book to read.  Originally published in 2005 as part of a larger book titled Coming to Our SensesThe Healing Power of Mindfulness is written often in a complex style that means I had to read passages more than once before I grasped the meaning. It wouldn’t be the book to read if you had no prior knowledge of mindfulness. But if you have some knowledge, and want to go further, this would be great resource. If your appetite is still not satisfied by the time you to the end, there is an extensive bibliography of additional material to explore.

 

 

About BookerTalk

What do you need to know about me? 1. I'm from Wales which is one of the countries in the UK and must never be confused with England. 2. My life has always revolved around the written and spoken word. I worked as a journalist for nine years then in international corporate communications 3. My tastes in books are eclectic. I love realism and hate science fiction and science fantasy. 4. I am trying to broaden my reading horizons geographically by reading more books in translation

Posted on March 14, 2019, in Book Reviews, Non fiction and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

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  2. Living in the present moment is also a common theme in Christian mysticism, alas most modern Christians have even forgotten there is such a thing as Christian mysticism!

  3. Ah yes, mindfulness. I’m actually reading a magazine about mindful parenting! And like you, I just take it mean ‘being in the moment’ but it doesn’t surprise me that it helps with out overall health as well-reducing stress is never a bad thing!

  4. I’ve sent your review to a friend. She has a more open mind about these things than I do, and is currently reading about brain plasticity in relation to ADHD.

  5. I don’t blame you for being wary of mindfulness especially in the context of the working world. I have meditated off and on for years and when it popped up as a thing at my workplace my response was very much like yours. I am still wary of workplaces pushing it on their employees, because I think they often have ulterior motives. However, mindfulness as a practice is a very good thing in my opinion. I started a daily mindfulness meditation practice a year and a half ago and really notice a difference on how I go through my day. I even have my husband meditating with me now and he too is noticing an effect.

    I tried to read Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living last summer and didn’t make it far. He has so much useful information but he wasn’t going about presenting it very well and I got tired of wading through it.

    So are you starting your own mindfulness practice?

    • I used to practice Transcendental Meditation also with my husband, and both of us found it extremely helpful. We slept better and felt more calm during the day. I’m not sure why we fell out of the routine…. I do revert to it occasionally. I’m keen to have a go at some of the mindfulness practices and am looking for a six week course which would go through all the elements. The Buddhist center in Cardiff near my home runs them occasionally which would be great. .

  6. Thanks for reading and reviewing what sounds like a good resource.

  7. I’ve enjoyed similar books by Louise Hay. But I know this isn’t for everyone.

  8. My partner, who is intensely paractical and wary of wackiness, has used mindfulness to help ameliorate work-related anxiety and depression, and found it very helpful. A cognitve behavioural therapist suggested it to him.

    • It’s encouraging to see it being used in many ways and with so many different groups. Of course, you have to pick your tutor very carefully since – unfortunately – just like other things there are many people who set themselves up as counsellors but have next to no qualifications

  9. Interesting. I know nothing about mindfulness but my mantra is to “live in the moment” which came about as as antidote to my OH who always wants to know “what are we doing next”! Perhaps I should give him this book to read 🤣

    • the idea about living in the moment is that our brain and body cannot distinguish between threats that are happening now and threats that might have happened in the past or we imagine could happen in the future. So our fight or flight reactions kick in – the heart starts racing for example, digestive system starts shutting down. If you are a worrier – someone constantly thinking about the awful thing that could happen, or you are someone who revisits past problems (even if its the way the driver cut you up on the road this morning), you react the same. Being in the moment tries to get you to deal with what is happening right now.

      • Interesting. I’ve only come to the realisation I’ve had low level anxiety my whole life and I think the way I handle it is to read and to cycle (not at the same time!) because doing those activities excludes other thinking/worrying and forces me to live in the moment.

  10. I’ve read way too many crappy articles on mindfulness, and have a similar opinion on mindfulness that you used to have. I should try this book and see, maybe it will make me change my mind about it too.

    • You might want to try a different book to begin with Nish – one I found very useful is Mindfulness : a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world by Professor Mark Williams . It is a practical book with exercises you do each week.

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