Festivals/Seasons & Holy Days

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Mark Williams & Danny Penman

Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world

ISBN 9780 7499 5308 9

Piatkus, 2011, £13.99

This is an enjoyable, readable, and above all thoroughly practical book that I am sure could benefit many people in this frantic world. It is also consciously not a religious book and the co-authors are respectively, a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University (though also an Anglican priest) and a journalist with a PhD in Biochemistry.

Grounded in academic research, and specifically arising from the practices of Mindfulness-based Cognitive Therapy that has been recognised by NICE (the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) as being as effective as drugs in the treatment of depression, the heart of the book is a DIY 8-week course or programme with some fun and enjoyable exercises: eating chocolate and going to the cinema each had their place! It could seem a challenge to find (most weeks) about 20 or 30 minutes for practice on ‘six out of the next seven days’ but as the authors say: ‘You won’t find the time, you’ll have to make it. If you had a spare half hour each day you’d have allocated it by now to other obligations.’

Of particular value are the conducted short meditations presented on the accompanying free CD which, again, are best used initially when instructed by the programme, but which guide the user to focus on the breath and body, sounds, sensations, and the coming and going of thoughts as events in the mind. I was reminded of Evagrius’ teaching about observing the rise and decline of ‘passions’ or of Martin Laird who writes (Into the Silent Land) encouraging us to become a witness to rather than a victim of our emotions.

As I’ve suggested though, this book isn’t all about prayer – it’s not officially about prayer at all! – and one of the most helpful meditations is the ‘Three Minute Breathing Space’, which is conceived as a kind of bridge between times of meditation and the rest of the day. I often use it prior to facing the unknown demands of the incoming emails folder. As Christians, we look for life and hope in the Gospel of Christ. When it comes to our bodies we are quite happy to use the tools available to us, of diet, exercise, and medication when necessary, to nurture our health. Our emotional health is just the same: these are practices – and more deeply, a developing attitude of mind – that really do help!

Desmond Alban SSF