Tag Archives: book review

The Hidden Brain, post 2

This is my second of (1, 2) 3 posts on The Hidden Brain, by Shankar Vedantam. Fascinating, fascinating book.

How much stronger is your brain than everyone else’s? After World War 2 people couldn’t understand how Germans could have performed the atrocities of the Holocaust. Most felt certain that they would never have blindly followed orders in the same way. Then in the 1960’s Stanley Milgram’s experiments shattered that notion, showing that in fact, our brains are remarkably susceptible to authority.

Vedantam raises a shocking modern day corollary question: How easily could any of us become a suicide bomber?

He describes various suicide bombers throughout history – ones that did and did not have any religious fundamentalist beliefs. He points to the fact that creating suicide bombers requires neither religion nor poverty. Mental illness, gullibility, and weak-mindedness are likewise unnecessary. All it requires is a tunnel.

The tunnel is a life experience in which the people and messages one is exposed to become narrower and narrower until eventually the only path that seems to make any sense in the world is the one heading straight toward the end of the tunnel. The only messages about the “enemy” are about their evil intentions to hurt you. The only messages about success are that the “stars” of the society are the ones who were suicide bombers before you. The only people you ever gain exposure to are the ones who share and promote these same beliefs.

Before long, it feels like you’d have to be crazy not to want to take the suicide bombing path.

But perhaps that still feels too extreme for you. If so, ask yourself about your own tunnel. It is presidential politics season in the US. Does one side feel like the enemy to you? Do people who attack the other side feel like stars? Do you find yourself more and more speaking (at least about politics) only with those who share your views (and watching/listening to media of the same type)?

We all have tunnels. Some less extreme than others. What Vedantam shows is how easily our Hidden Brains can buy into the tunnel and point us to the light at the very end.


Start Where You Are, post 3

Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron, was the eighth book from my 2012 reading list. (It is an advanced how-to type meditation book.) This is the third of (1, 2) 3 posts on this book.

In perhaps one of the most beautiful and simplest (simple does not equal easy) lessons of the book, Chodron tells us,

The lojong teachings encourage us, if we enjoy what we are experiencing, to think of other people and wish for them to feel that. Share the wealth. Be generous with your joy . . . Instead of fearing that they’re going to slip away and holding on to them, share them.

That’s it. Beautiful. Simple. Not easy.

As a post-script to this book review, I don’t think my review will be fully complete for several months. The 8 Minute Meditation book asks you to try each of the 8 meditation techniques daily for a week. I felt I needed to be past the halfway mark of that before passing lessons along to you.

Similarly, to really grasp the value of this book I think I would need to take at least one meditation session to consider each of the 59 lojong slogans. That said, perhaps I will write another review in a few months time.

Next up I will review another brain book, The Hidden Brain, that was not on my 2012 list, but popped up recently and was too enticing for me to wait.

Start Where You Are, post 1

Start Where You Are by Pema Chodron, was the eighth book from my 2012 reading list. (It is an advanced how-to type meditation book.)

If 8 Minute Meditation was perfect for the beginner, this book is the opposite.

Pema Chodron (one of the most brilliant and aware thinkers I’ve encountered) teaches us the practice of lojong, a series of meditations to purify your motives. The practice consists of focusing on one of the 59 slogans (e.g., Drive all blames into one.) during your meditation. Chodron guides the reader through intricate, nuanced, fascinating interpretations of these slogans.

Along with this she describes a specific meditation practice, tonglen, in which you build empathy, understanding, and kinship with others by breathing in the pain you, yourself feel and see around you and breath out the inspiring, relieving, relaxing feelings you experience. This practice begins with understanding and recognizing these feelings in yourself and then opens you to building kinship with all others who share those same feelings.

As I said, if the last book was meditation for the beginner, this is advanced practice. For anyone ready to explore at this level, the insights are, while sometimes challenging, consistently brilliant.


8 Minute Meditation, post 3

8 Minute Meditation by Victor Davich, was the seventh book from my 2012 reading list. (It is a beginner’s how-to type meditation book.) This is my third of (1, 2) 3 posts.

Perhaps my favorite element from how Davich introduces the reader to meditation is the posture he recommends. I mean, how many of us can actually fold our legs into lotus position? And even if we could, how many of us would then spend the entire meditation feeling totally self-conscious that someone would walk in on us and see us sitting in the lotus position?

Davich instead emphasizes posture that facilitates the #1 most important objective – actually doing your meditation. So he suggests sitting on a chair.

That’s it. Just sit on a chair.

The simpler and easier it is for you to get started, the more likely you will stick with your daily 8-minute routine. So sit down, close your eyes, and begin.

He offers 2 important caveats. One, sit on the edge of your seat so that you don’t recline and fall asleep (a legitimate concern). Two, if it hurts, stop.

He gives more guidance than that, but I really like that his emphasis is on the practical. And there seems little more practical advice for getting started than to just take a seat.

8 Minute Meditation, post 2

8 Minute Meditation by Victor Davich, was the seventh book from my 2012 reading list. (It is a beginner’s how-to type meditation book.) This is my second of (1, 2) 3 posts.

When fishing, if you catch a small fish, you release it back into the water. Thus, you allow the fish to live past breeding age and encourage the fish population to thrive. This practice is aptly called “catch and release.”

Davich uses this term, “catch and release,” to describe the practice of mindfulness in meditation. One of your objectives in meditation is to “catch” your wandering thoughts, to notice that they have arrived and what they are, and then to “release” them so that you may bring your mind back to the focus of your meditation.

I have used this phrase personally and with a few of my coaching clients since first reading Davich’s description. They find it very helpful in guiding them during meditation. Instead of getting angry that the mind has wandered, we can feel pleased that we have caught a wayward thought. Then we can gently release it back into the currents of our minds. If the thought swims back to us, we catch and release again.

So happy fishing, I mean meditating.

8 Minute Meditation, post 1

8 Minute Meditation by Victor Davich, was the seventh book from my 2012 reading list. (It is a beginner’s how-to type meditation book.)

I loved this book! Despite some rather hokey language and explanations at the start, if you’ve ever wanted to try meditation but didn’t know how, this is the book. If you’ve ever tried meditation and didn’t know if you were doing it right, this is the book for you.

This book offers eight weeks of meditation (a different type each week) at 8 minutes per day. I really like how he gives the reader the experience of a variety of techniques. And more than anything, I like how accessible he makes meditation.

Here’s example #1: There is only one measure of whether or not you had a good meditation session – did you have it? So long as you made some attempt, that is the only measure. So it was a good meditation session if:

  • your mind was distracted
  • you stopped early
  • you spent the whole time wishing it was over
  • you forgot how you were supposed to sit
  • you sang a jingle the whole time

It doesn’t matter. So long as you sat down and made the attempt. There will be better and worse meditations, but Davich’s encouragement is loud and clear. Just keep trying. And why not? Meditation only

  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Reduces chronic pain
  • Reduces stress and anxiety

So give it a try. In this case, try is a guarantee of success.

Miracle of Mindfulness, post 3

The Miracle of Mindfulness by Thich Nhat Hanh, was the fourth book from my 2012 reading list and my first on meditation. This is my third of (1, 2) 3 posts on the book.

For anyone new to meditation, the common understanding is that the idea is to focus on your breathing. (This was my only understanding of meditation for years.) In fact this is just one of many meditation practices. Focusing on breathing increases your physical awareness and skills of concentration and relaxes you. Hanh describes that there is much more to be gained:

. . . relaxation is the necessary point of departure, once one has realized relaxation, it is possible to realize a tranquil heart and clear mind . . . Of course to take hold of our minds and calm our thoughts, we must also practice mindfulness of our feelings and perceptions. To take hold of your mind, you must practice mindfulness of the mind. You must know how to observe and recognize the presence of every feeling and thought which arises in you . . . When a feeling or thought arises . . . the intention isn’t to chase it away, hate it, worry about it, or be frightened by it . . . Simply acknowledge their presence.

Last Friday I posted on this exact topic. How we fight determines how we relate after the fight is over. Greater mindfulness of our emotions enables us to let more negative emotions pass us by without bringing them to the fight. We can, even in the midst of conflict, be mindful and bring peacefulness to our fight.

Hanh describes many ways to practice that mindfulness and bring more peace to every facet of our lives.

Read along with me as next up I explore The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu.