2015, Books, Non-Fiction

The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness (2015) by Andy Puddicombe

I have never had any interest in meditation. “Zero interest” isn’t far off. I’ve never found the idea of sitting still for an hour appealing, and I’ve never been attracted to the supposed benefits. (There are people who claim they get ecstatic after meditating for hours or days and I couldn’t care less about that.) But this book was given to me by someone and I try to read anything that someone has given to me. Also, I’ve had some new challenges at a new job that I have struggled with so I figured now might be the time to give it a try.

Before I get to the book itself, I just want to say that this book – and, perhaps, meditation in general – does not appear to be meant for me. I am fortunate enough to not have suffered the trauma Puddicombe did, nor anything remotely as bad. And I’ve never felt the urge to escape from my life, at least not in any serious sense. (Of course, I’ve dreamed about it, like everyone else, but I’ve never felt a need to run away.) Again, I’m very lucky.

I fidget a lot, but I’ve never felt like there was a moral component to my fidgeting. I’m sure once or twice in my life someone has told me to stop moving so much, but not enough to make an impression, so to me, fidgeting is not a problem. I don’t feel as though “stillness” is some kind of solution to my fidgeting because I don’t regard fidgeting as bad.

I also have a constant inner monologue that I…quite like. I very rarely get upset by my inner monologue, which I see as inseparable from my being. When I do have issues, I have long sat with them, usually in the shower. This is a form of mindfulness I suppose, even if I never named it such, but I have been doing this for a very long time.

All of this is to say, I’m not sure what problem meditation is supposed to solve for me. The only ones I can come up with right now are sleeping issues and work-related stress, both of which I was content to try to address in my usual way, without resorting to something different. But then I read this book.

The book is readable and seemingly easy to use. The biggest issue with the latter is the length of the instructions. There’s probably no getting around that, however the instructions are long enough I’d have to read them 20 times before remembering them. So I’ve tried their website instead. I much prefer listening to someone lead me through a meditation than trying to remember all of that.

Puddicombe lays out good reasons for people to meditate and be mindful, and he does a reasonable job of arguing for these practices as a part of your general well-being. (I wish the studies were cited in the text, as opposed to in the end notes, but that’s always a nitpick of mine when this is the style that’s chosen. I know most people don’t agree.)

My biggest nitpick with the stories is how unattributed they are – he references multiple teachers and doesn’t name them. I guess there’s a reason for the anonymity but I definitely distrust anecdotes and can’t help but be skeptical of some of these stories. He probably wants to protect the monasteries and the monks. Still, as a reader, I want a little bit more proof.

This feels like one of those self help books that might be very useful for some people but just isn’t for me. As usual with these reviews, I’m not trying to say I have everything figured out. I really, really don’t. But I am reasonably emotionally healthy and have spent my entire adult life being “mindful,” it turns out, if that means thinking about my thoughts and actions and changing behaviours. Not necessarily “mindful” just in the sense of observation – my “thinking about thinking” is not what Puddicombe has in mind – but it works for me, much of the time. I feel like I will never get to a place in which I have corrected all my bad habits, but I also don’t see that as a realistic goal forĀ anyone. I’m pretty content with the person I am. And so, I find myself once again reading a self help book and thinking it’s just not right for me. Much of what Puddicombe insists meditation will solve either isn’t a problem for me or is something I do but don’t view as a problem.

I have still started meditating, because of this book. Not very well, of course, but I’ve started. I don’t know how long I will continue to try it. But I’m hoping it will impact my sleeping patterns – which have been worse lately – and my level of work-related stress. So far, I’ve found no benefit but I just started and, more importantly, I have a really hard time sitting still and focusing on being present. (My mind goes all over the place when I am not doing a task. I do not regard this as a moral failing.) I have no idea if I will continue, or if there will be any benefit. But I’m giving it a shot.

If you don’t like your inner monologue, you cannot stop your thoughts, or you see some benefit in stillness, I suspect this book is much more for you. It’s probably quite helpful.


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