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“Guided Meditations for Difficult Times” Jack Kornfield: Review

I highly recommend the audio book version of “Guided Meditations for Difficult Times: A Lamp in the Darkness” by Jack Kornfield.

Having read a good deal of his work, Kornfield has emerged as one of my favorite writers and speakers in the Buddhism/mindfulness genre. Based on my experience listening to Guided Meditations, I signed up for a five day JK retreat which I completed two weeks ago at “Kripalu” in Lenox, Ma.

The meditations that make up this short book are designed to help listeners face life’s unavoidable painful experiences – heartbreak, illness, death – using mindfulness and related practices. Like a wise mentor, his guidance and insights connect with the listener, and have a reassuring and soothing impact. Kornfield successfully translates his background and experience as a psychologist, ordained Buddhist monk, psychotherapist, teacher, and leader into highly accessible, user friendly and deeply nourishing written and spoken teachings. I should say that I listened to the book during “good” times. I was on vacation sitting on the porch overlooking a lake in Vermont. But just like “you don’t have to be Jewish to love Levi’s (rye bread)”, you don’t have to be suffering (or a Buddhist) to love Kornfield’s meditations.

Each of the meditations are twenty to twenty five minutes and preceded by interesting and useful comments about the meditation. Each of the guided meditations starts with instructions that anyone can follow. So no experience in mindfulness, Buddhism or meditation is required to enjoy the book. As in his other work, Kornfield’s meditations are enriched with stories, allegories, and teachings from the Buddha, Bible, ancient and contemporary poetry, and his psychotherapy and teaching experiences. The meditations come across as spiritual but secular – no asking you to believe in the supernatural.

Despite the ribbing self-help books get in our rugged individualist culture, the enormous and growing audience for this genre reflects the extent to which people are starving to death in our “all you can eat” world, for meaning, connection, and peace of mind. Books like the ones Jack Kornfield writes are only as good as the connection the reader or listener feels with the writer. There is a genuine equanimity in his voice, pacing and writing style which I find common to people who have had thousands of hours of contemplative meditation practice. This gives him a soothing and charismatic fatherly “presence” that cultivates a deep trust with the listener/reader and creates the effect of feeling “held” and safe.

Jack’s meditations approach life’s most painful and threatening challenges with the quiet strength, wisdom and reassuring voice of a horse whisperer approaching a dangerous stallion.

The Power of Pause

“We desire to be happy and at peace, but when our emotions are aroused, somehow the methods we use to achieve this happiness only make us more miserable.” from Taking the Leap: Freeing Ourselves From Old Habits and Fears, Pema Chodron, edited by Sandy Boucher, 2010, Shambala Press

Reacting to a frustrating or provocative situation or person when the fight-flight hormones are still coursing through your brain is like driving when drunk.  Not only do you pose a danger to yourself and others, but the judgment and impulse control required to refrain from engaging the wheel or person, is also impaired.  Even if you are lucky enough to avoid disaster, at the very least, you can be assured that whatever point you wanted to get across will be lost, as your emotional overreaction becomes the center of attention.  It’s a lose-lose.

When you find yourself in in fight-flight and about to act, which for most humans (but especially Energizers and Drivers), is likely to be several times a day — the simple act of pausing can interrupt your reaction before it takes shape.  A three second pause, especially when accompanied by a deep breath is accessible to us at even the highest levels of emotional arousal, and creates enough of a gap to allow us get back to present moment where we can:

  1. Notice what’s happening from different perspectives – especially that of the object of our frustration
  2. Pay attention to the thoughts, emotions and physical feelings happening “now”
  3. Consider other ways of understanding the situation that might be less personally threatening
  4. Become aware of what you really want (besides hurting another person or proving you are right), and  whether your planned reaction is going to get you there.

Pausing can even open us to our hearts and allow our emotional intelligence, natural kindness, and compassion to influence our response.

Try pausing for a few seconds and taking a deep breath right now.  What was that like for you?

If this is something you want to incorporate, try using the pause button at least once today at even the slightest hint of frustration or stress, and see where it takes you.  As a reminder try hanging the word “Pause” on the fridge or wherever else you are likely to see it.

If you want to read more about “the pause”, I have really enjoyed Tara Brach’s writing on the subject. Here is a link to a recent blog,  “The Sacred Pause”.

Mindfulness: What, How, and Why.

I have spent a great deal of time thinking and writing about mindfulness but I still have not found a more effective way of introducing mindfulness than sharing these engaging video introductions.

“Whats this Meditating Thing?” ,  Meditation and Letting Go, and Benefits of Meditation were written and narrated by Tibetan Monk Andy Puddicombe (no longer in robes).  Andy is cofounder of gersomeheadspace.com which offers an awesome 365 day online meditation series.

Teaching Mindfulness to Children At Home or in School, is aimed at children, but speaks to people of all ages.  It is short, simple, spot-on and plays out like a situation comedy explanation of mindfulness.

Hope you enjoy them.