“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.

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