Adventures in mindfulness
5th September 2013 - Charlotte Pope
In the frantic modern world, sometimes the only place you can find peace and quiet in inside your own head. Charlotte Pope, from our Bristol Cabot Circus branch, shares the books that have helped her find a meditative space.
When I first considered meditation, I was wary. My mind was plagued with images of disciplined Tibetan monks giving away all of their possessions, being diligent vegans, never harming a single hair on another beings head. Another image that arose was that of bare-footed Glastonbury festival-goers twisting themselves into impossible yoga positions as deftly as toddlers. The whole process seemed so bizarre - how did one 'empty' one's mind? Was it even possible?
Though I am far from achieving enlightenment, I am glad to say I have joined the meditating masses that rely on mindfulness in their day-to-day lives. At first I had no idea where to start, but as I'm a bookseller my mind immediately went to books and I found an instructional goldmine.
Without the following books I would still be at square one, probably ending up in A&E after yet another hopeless failed attempt at the lotus position.
The first author I came across was Pema Chodron, a Buddhist nun who has written many books on the subject in an attempt to make mindfulness meditation simpler and more appealing to Western audiences. The Wisdom of No Escape made me realise what I'd been doing wrong: I wasn't supposed to empty my mind or eradicate the part of myself I felt was causing me so much trouble. I had to embrace it or, in Pema Chodron's words, I had to 'befriend' myself. Pema's words and the valuable story of a woman being chased by tigers who, rather than worry about her impending death, chose to live her final moments to the fullest, helped me massively as did her step-by-step guide to starting out at meditation.
The other teacher who became an almost 'personal guru' was Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Forcibly ejected from his native homeland during the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh has helped many people in his lifetime and in 1967 was nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Using his handy guide, The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh, only taught me more about embracing the current moment rather than drifting off into worries or anxieties of the past or future. His guide for home mediation Making Space has proved especially invaluable. Hanh, known as 'Thay' (teacher) to his followers, is a remarkable man. Just watching video footage of one of his seminars or reading a few paragraphs from one of his many books, and within a few moments the serenity that seems to radiate from his every pore will enrapture you. Your shoulders will drop. Your mood will lighten. You'll remember to smile at the good things instead of focusing on the looming cloud of the unfairness of life, rude people, deadlines and fear. You'll remember that though you are suffering, the world is still full of beauty. The website of Plum Village Monastery, where Thay lives and works, is very enlightening and well worth a look.
Now, the next book may put you off by its title: The Mindful Way through Depression may seem irrelevant to you if you've never suffered with a mental illness. Perhaps you see the word 'depression' in the title and it immediately repels you. But it's well worth a read, whether you are familiar with the depths of despair or not. The accompanying guided meditation CD by meditation teacher Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn is fantastic; if the idea of meditating for half an hour makes you want to run for the hills, stop! The 30-minute body scan is the ultimate in relaxation, you'll feel great for the rest of the day after just taking a bit of time to lie still and watch as the tension melts from your body.
So I hope that if you too would like to embark on the mindfulness journey that I have suitably armed you with some books that will become valued companions on your voyage. Namaste.
J. Mark G. Williams; Danny Penman