Book reviews
Mindfulness for Dummies review

Mindfulness for Dummies review

by Katinka Hesselink on April 24, 2014

What’s the ideal mindfulness book? Personally I don’t really need to read another book EXPLAINING mindfulness. The term is confusing, very general and even somewhat misleading. And no book I’ve read deals with any of that (1). Instead most mindfulness books I’ve read treat mindfulness like it’s pretty straight forward. Which, in a way, it also is. However, most books do insist on explaining in great detail what it’s good for. You’ll get the usual: great for dealing with stress, it will help you gain concentration and self knowledge etc. Many people become happier as a result of mindfulness. Some of these claims have been verified scientifically, others haven’t and mindfulness for dummies will not help you figure out which is which.

The only thing I really wanted from a mindfulness book are the meditations, either in the shape of audio, or in the shape of meditation outlines. Meditation has already helped me become happier, so I don’t need convincing of it’s importance. Perhaps I ought to have tried Mindfulness Workbook For Dummies instead. It apparently includes audio available for download after purchase even with the Kindle version.

Back to the book I did read most of: Mindfulness For Dummies. While also explaining way too much for my taste, it does in fact offer short meditations and exercises in the text that can be tried at home. The advantage of getting text, instead of audio, is that you can do them in your own time, at your own speed. While Shamash recommends daily sessions of 20 minutes each, for 2 months, the book is very useful even if you are not ready for that kind of commitment or have (like me) other meditation practices this is latched onto, curtailing time available for this specific practice.

The book is all you’d expect from a book in the ‘For Dummies’ series: well written, good explanations, easy to follow and well structured. And yes, if you want to know ABOUT mindfulness as well as try it out a bit, this is definitely a good book to get you started.

Personally I don’t consider Mindfulness for Dummies by Shamash Alidina to be my ideal mindfulness book, but it is definitely one of the best in its class. If you get the physical version, it includes a CD with audio meditations, which I’m sure many people will enjoy. I personally went for the kindle version which did not have audio. I did however enjoy the descriptions of meditations and gratitude exercises and liked doing them.

(1) Mindfulness is basically an umbrella term that started out as a translation for the Theravada Buddhist ‘sati’ (smrti), which describes all sorts of dimensions of Buddhist meditation, including meditation on the breath and meditating on death and impermanence. The term mindfulness has come to include positive psychology exercises like meditating on gratitude as well as body-scan exercises. Mindfulness for Dummies takes a non-Buddhist secular approach to mindfulness.

Obeyesekere is the kind of thinker I love: sweeping, sociological, anthropological and philosophical. However, unlike myself, he’s a real scholar and doesn’t ignore the details. In Imagining Karma: Ethical Transformation in Amerindian, Buddhist, and Greek Rebirth he looks at just what makes karma special from rebirth thought in cultures around the world. The unifying theme he finds is that while rebirth is a very common idea – the idea that this rebirth is in fact determined by someone’s ethical actions, is an Indian one.

This is a scholarly tour de force: Obeyesekere takes us to Africa, the Americas, Greece and more. In short: there’s hardly a continent where he does not find a reference to belief in rebirth. What you don’t find, however, is any reference to karma. Neither the Pythagoreans, nor Melanesians or the Tlingit believe that the ethical quality of our actions, thoughts and words make a difference in how we’re reborn. This idea developed in India and became a major feature of most religions that originate there.

The book is easy to summarize, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to read. For those with the patience to do so, there is a wealth of detail here that is worth exploring. For instance, we find Socrates saying:

Every seeker after wisdom knows that up to the time when philosophy takes it over his soul is a helpless prisoner, chained hand and foot in the body, compelled to view reality not directly but only through its prison bars, and wallowing in utter ignorance. (p. 250)

It’s a cliche in multi-cultural dialog that diversity is a good thing, because it brings new perspective. As a cultural (though probably not a believing) Buddhist Obeyesekere’s perspective on Greek philosophy is refreshing. He brings an Asian sensitivity to the topic that is useful when one is used to hearing about the classics through the lens of modern materialistic thought. After all, it’s really not like those Greeks were post-modern themselves.

All in all I do recommend this book to the intelligent reader willing to deal with anthropological references, or at least able to skip them without losing the main thread of the book.

Thumbnail image for Neufelt, Ronald W. (ed). Karma and rebirth: Post Classical Developments

Neufelt, Ronald W. (ed). Karma and rebirth: Post Classical Developments

April 6, 2014

This book is a companion to Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions. Instead of looking at the classical period (before the common era), it looks at more modern developments in interpreting karma. That means it starts with Buddhism 2000 years ago, catches up to Hinduism in the 1850s and covers the reception of karma in […]

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Thumbnail image for Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy (ed). Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions

Doniger O’Flaherty, Wendy (ed). Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions

April 5, 2014

Another of the books I looked at to get my facts straight when writing about karma was: Karma and Rebirth in Classical Indian Traditions, edited by Wendy Doniger O’Flaherty. It’s a collection of academic articles on the topic, collected in 1980 in hopes of deepening the understanding of karma in cross-religious perspective. That means [...]

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Karma: Dimensions of Asian Spirituality

April 4, 2014

In researching my (upcoming) book about Karma, I brushed up my knowledge on the topic. One of the books I turned to was Karma: Dimensions of Asian Spirituality by Johannes Bronkhorst. My teachers at Leiden University whisper his name with awe. Professor Bronkhorst is a living legend in the study of India and Buddhism. From the […]

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Thumbnail image for HH the Dalai Lama, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World

HH the Dalai Lama, Beyond Religion: Ethics for a Whole World

March 30, 2014

The Dalai Lama is well known as the (officially former) leader of the Tibetan people in exile and as a spiritual teacher. In this book he has done something unprecedented: he wrote a book for non-Buddhists, with no aim to convert them. As a Tibetan, his approach to ethics – the topic of Beyond Religion: […]

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Trying not to Try – Wu Wei and De

March 13, 2014

How do we fall asleep? Trying to sleep only worsens insomnia. Trying to achieve something worsens the result in many areas of life. In Chinese philosophy this paradox is described through the twin principles of ‘wu wei‘ and ‘de‘. Wu Wei is roughly what we would call ‘flow’. The experience of being in the moment, […]

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Alphatudes – the alphabet of gratitude

November 17, 2013

I am always a bit suspicious of books about gratitude. The very concept sounds to me like a way of telling people to not feel their pain and ignore their troubles. This book is not like that. It tells us to lovingly embrace our emotions, to deal with our fears and sorrow. Yet it is […]

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Man The Measure Of All Things

November 17, 2013

This deep, engaging and insightful interpretation of Blavatsky’s ‘The Secret Doctrine’ by Sri Madhava Ashish and Sri Krishna Prem is one of those books I’ve heard about for years, but never had the opportunity to read. Having read Blavatsky’s magnum opus myself, I was not inclined to read this commentary. However, the second hand bookshop of the […]

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Thumbnail image for Out of this World: Otherworldly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert Einstein

Out of this World: Otherworldly Journeys from Gilgamesh to Albert Einstein

November 13, 2013

Real science is always hard to summarize. This book by Ioan Couliano is a book like that. I read the whole thing, but to be honest the most fascinating parts were the introduction and the conclusion. The rest helped flesh it out, but it did get a bit boring. Still, Out of this World: Otherworldly […]

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