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Mindfulness for Beginners    by Jon Kabat-Zinn order for
Mindfulness for Beginners
by Jon Kabat-Zinn
Order:  USA  Can
Sounds True, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

In Mindfulness for Beginners (a two-CD set), Jon Kabat-Zinn - meditation teacher and founding director for the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center - introduces and explains mindfulness and then leads listeners gently, clearly, and often playfully through a series of guided meditations. Find yourself quiet surroundings, sit comfortably, listen, and follow this narrator/guide into a state of heightened mindfulness.

In the first CD session, Kabat-Zinn, who wrote Full Catastrophe Living and Coming to Your Senses, covers some of the same material as in those books to explain mindfulness. He defines it as 'paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, as if your life depended on it, non-judgmentally'. He portrays the Buddha as an early scientist who had 'profound insights into the nature of the human mind', and tells us that the Center for Mindfulness has, for close to thirty years, been using mindfulness within mainstream medicine - in 'mindfulness based stress reduction' - to help people who 'fall through the cracks in the health care system' move to greater levels of health and well-being. He tells us that some of the methods he presents here are the same as those offered in the clinic, but that they are universal practices that will benefit anyone, as mindfulness packs incredible 'healing power'.

Kabat-Zinn tells us that 'it's not about thinking', but about clear seeing through all our senses, and that Buddhism considers mind a sixth sense - not just the thinking mind but the stuff we don't need to think about but know in deep ways. Similarly, neuroscientists look at proprioception - knowing and feeling the body's position in space - and interoception - knowing how the body is feeling in general. The author emphasizes that in all Asian languages, the words for mind and heart are the same - so mindfulness also incorporates heartfulness - openness, kindness, and attention that is caring. Non-harming is a core ethical foundation to meditation practice. He covers the three things that poison the mind - greed, hate, and delusion - and seven factors that give a good attitudinal foundation to meditation - non-judging, patience, beginner's mind (one full of possibilities), trust, non-striving, acceptance, and non-attachment.

The author/narrator speaks of the habits of thought that keep us stuck and un-aware. He tells us that mindfulness is a way of being and a way of living, and its practice gives us access to other dimensions of our life, about which we've been clueless - meditation practice unlocks new perspectives. We need to step out of the storyline we create for ourselves and rest in awareness, which meditation cultivates. The challenge is that 'the mind has a life of its own' and 'thinking can run amuck'. Kabat-Zinn's second session cultivates mindfulness, as he guides listeners to pay mindful attention to all aspects of eating a raisin; breathing; expanding the awareness of the breath to the body as a whole; then attending to sound and hearing; next to thinking, the flow of thoughts, and their emotional associations; and finally expanding once more to inhabit the same awareness without an agenda for special attention.

Though I can claim no expertise, I have read several books now on the subject of meditation, and this audiobook is the best I've encountered yet. I highly recommend Mindfulness for Beginners to you, with the sole proviso that you should not listen to these CDs in the car - Jon Kabat-Zinn's soft and hypnotic voice is dangerously soothing and driving itself requires mindfulness.

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