Book Review: Everything you wanted to know about meditations

Meditation: The complete guide by Patricia Monaghan and Eleanor G. Viereck (New World Library) is not just about meditation.  Monaghan & Viereck dedicate 43 chapters not only to a variety of meditation approaches but also organize them into their parent traditions.  It is a veritable who’s who and how to of contemplative practices.  In a publishing world overflowing with books on being in the moment, Meditation offers a sensible map to Indigenous traditions, Yoga, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, modern forms, creative and active meditations. 

The book starts with a detailed and transparent explanation of what meditation is and is not.  I am relieved to finally read that meditation is not relaxation or self-hypnosis.  It is likely the most active process of taking responsibility for our lives we will ever encounter.  Yet, there is such a cultural misconception of bliss and dissolving away.  In their FAQ section of the Introduction, Monaghan & Viereck pose questions that are commonly heard in any mindfulness course.  However, the way they present the questions is instructive and reveals a strong understanding of the process of contemplative practices.  I particularly liked the section on Reasons for Meditating.  There are no pat answers or fluffy exhortations.  They point pragmatically to which meditation skills are best suited for the individual’s aspirations.

Want to deal with stress?  Here’s what you may want to try.

Attune to your spiritual life?  Here you go.

Engage in your community and bring benefit to other beings?  Try this.

It’s not as prescriptive as it sounds, but it does narrow the search field and encourages a grounded curiosity and an informed exploration.  The general introduction to the book could be a course in itself and I would strongly encourage anyone taking a mindfulness course to use the questions as a guided inquiry to explore for themselves what they really want from an MBSR program. 

The sections on each faith/contemplative tradition can only be summed as “just enough” – sufficient to inform and educate without overwhelming technicality and useless detail.  As a Buddhist practitioner, I was immediately drawn to that chapter.  It was a respectful and wonderfully detailed explanation of aspects and the variety of Buddhist practice convey in easily accessible language.  Again, a great resource for just enough information on Buddhism.  I freely admit a bias to the brush paint chapter also.  Of course, I would have loved to have just stopped there but was drawn to the other faith traditions some of which I knew almost nothing.  The contemplative meditations of Judaism and Islam, Quakers and Native traditions, the movement meditations of Tai Chi and Qigong were delicious windows into treasured practices.

This is a highly recommended guide for all levels of practitioners, teachers, and eternal students.

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