Review: Practicing Mindfulness

Practicing Mindfulness: An Introduction to MeditationPracticing Mindfulness: An Introduction to Meditation by Mark W. Muesse
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The last The Great Courses lecture series I listened to was Exploring Metaphysics, and while I had a lukewarm response to it, it did make me think about some more esoteric sciences and beliefs. An old friend of mine has encouraged me to try meditation for over 15 years. Not as a component of religious practice, but scientifically. In finally deciding to investigate this field I selected this lecture series because The Great Courses have proven to be consistently strong, like TEDTalks with a deeper focus. I also decided if I was listening I should practice as well, so throughout the duration of the lecture series I practiced meditation each day as guided by the course.

Caveat – I also primarily listened to the lectures either A) while driving, or B) while on the elliptical, and always at 3X speed. This sounds like I wasn’t giving it a fair shake, but 3X speed is actually pretty natural. 1X is artificially slow, and while 3X is probably a bit quicker than Mark W. Muesse’s regular lecture pace, listeners minds acclimate quickly and it doesn’t sound hurried at all (also Mark is from Texas so could use a pick-me-up to my northern ears).

Mark W. Muesse does a solid job walking the listener through the essential methods of meditation, establishing social and historical context, and describes some potential psychological and biological benefits. I appreciate that he manages expectation as well, underlining that it may take years to advance beyond introductory methods and results. He also supplies many anecdotes from his personal life and experience with meditation, but mostly these felt impersonal and unemotional. It sounds like he is speaking to an empty room, and to a point about 18″ in front of him. Undoubtedly this is the reality, but most of the other lectures I have heard were infused with more energy and personality. He did frequently recite mantras from his religious beliefs which I am innately unreceptive to, but other people may find kinship there.

A few odd outcomes. During the lecture #8 on the “body scan” technique I discovered that I have been practicing this form of meditation since my second year of architecture school, and was (and occasionally is) the only way I could still my mind so I could sleep during those long and stressful years. Also, during the lecture #21 on “pain” I discovered that I have been faithfully practicing this technique for pain acceptance and mitigation for nearly 30 years. I have had migraines since I was nine and also been through two notable bouts with cluster migraines and this technique is largely responsible for my day-to-day function. So I came into this experiment as a devote skeptic (and equally devote practitioner).

While Muesse didn’t necessarily open new doors to mindfulness for me, he did draw my attention to the very real applications which are integral to my life and work. You will get the basics, some of the history and science, a fair amount of Buddhism, and potentially a valuable toolkit of self-awareness.

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3 thoughts on “Review: Practicing Mindfulness

  1. This is a great review. It’s quite thorough and honest, without bogging the reader down too much. Case in point, I read it on the bus this morning and felt like I’d really accomplished something with my commute. Have you read/listened to any other works on meditation? I feel like I’d have some of the same issues that you would with getting into the practice under the guidance of a religious person; it seems like someone would have come up with a purely scientific approach to this by now, right?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, that’s quite a compliment. I think this was intended to be purely scientific, but his personal history is intertwined with religion. The descriptions of method are based on observation and physiology, but any interpretation or anecdotes are shaded with the eastern philosophy. I agree a more rigorously scientific guide would be interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Just saw a book at the airport last night that reminded me of this conversation: 10% Happier, by Dan Harris. Flipping through it, it seemed like he was much more interested in the science of meditation vs. the spirituality.

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