Book Review: ‘The Healing Power of Meditation’ – Edited by Andy Fraser

2013 August 19

healing-power-

‘The Healing Power of Meditation’ is a collection of writing from leading experts in Buddhism, psychology, counseling and meditation that provides support for the various benefits of contemplative practice. Edited by Andy Fraser, the book allows diverse voices to share the ways that they have used meditation as a means to help others with various afflictions or just with the overall suffering that comes about from this human birth.

The book features a foreword by psychologist Daniel Goleman who is a board member of the Mind & Life Institute– the non-profit organization which seeks to bridge mind and science (you may know it as the group that His Holiness the Dalai Lama helped put together bringing contemplative traditions and scientific inquiry together).

Part One of ‘The Healing Power of Meditation’ investigates the Buddhist component of meditation and the opening chapter by Sogyal Rinpoche on the Buddhist approach to well being reflects upon how contemplative practice can calm the mind for application both on and off the cushion. Jetsun Khandro Rinpoche’s chapter on meditation methods in the Buddhist tradition examines the various techniques used to dismantle habitual tendencies, false perceptions and reactive patterns.

Part Two of the book gets into the nitty gritty science and while there are some headier concepts in this section, readers will not be overwhelmed or have squiggily graph charts to nose around in. Rest assured. It’s accessible.

Dr. Frederic Rosenfeld’s chapter is on the science behind the benefits of meditation and his work at the aforementioned Mind and Life Institute and explores the positive physical and mental outcomes from introducing mindfulness and meditation on one’s life. He asserts that all therapists worth their salt should practice mindfulness as a means to know themselves and better treat their patients.

The chapter titled ‘Training the Mind- the Shamatha Project’ from Clifford Sauron, PhD. is an examination of the 2007 project that measured the effects of meditation on 60 meditators to gauge its results on attention, health, empathy and emotions. It is a rich chapter that explores many questions that both science and supporters of meditation have including:

  • Can attention be trained through mindfulness?
  • Can training in lovingkindness improve emotion?
  • Can mindfulness improve attention and are there any improvements in psychological functions?

The results are quite interesting and have fascinating possibilities for application in many domains where this can be of benefit to society.

The section dedicated to science also explores the effects of meditation on emotion and how there is a biological/evolutionary root to emotion which speaks to how they are truly non-dual at their core, yet it’s all what we do with them and how we behave where the rubber hits the road. This chapter was quite fascinating as it dispels the myth that many have that emotions are bad or to be rejected if you are following the Buddhist path. Meditation is described as slowing down our emotional processes and allowing us time to choose how we react to triggers around us.

Neuroscience is delved into and that juicy MRI brain scan business that was splashed all over the glossies finds a home within ‘The Healing Power of Meditation’ where an analysis of findings from this is presented.

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Part Three offers insight into the practical applications of mindfulness in health care settings and this section is headed up by a chapter by John Kabat-Zinn who takes on what it means to be mindfulness-based and the secular aspects of meditation meeting with the Buddhist origins of meditation as it can be used to help in what he describes as ‘the dukkha magnets’ of locations such as hospitals, schools, prisons and the military. I did like his reference to how there are infinite ways that humans suffer so there needs to be infinite ways for the Dharma to be available to individuals. (Many mentions within the pages in the book are made to Kabat-Zinn and the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program he developed).

Therapeutic applications for Mindfulness Based Stress Relief are evaluated such as for use in the treatment of depression and clinical techniques such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) are explored and cited as helping with faster recovery times.

The chapter exploring ‘Mindfulness in Palliative Care’ was particularly vivid in its descriptions on how patients in hospice care were able to benefit from the coping strategies, stress reduction, community engagement and overall reduction of suffering that such a practice can offer.

The final section is on Mindfulness and Spiritual Care and how it can be employed to help caretakers and medical professionals truly take better care of others and speaks to the work withing the Tonglen Association which provides volunteers to teach meditation and contemplative mindfulness at medical institutions in France.  Exploration into teaching prison officers, nurses and others in high pressure jobs how to meditate was also referred to and supported with stories and research statistics. Using these techniques as an antidote to burnout has proven to be worth it for those in these roles.

Overall ‘The Healing Power of Meditation’ covers a lot, and I mean a lot of ground and delivers strong support for the use of meditation in various disciplines to help relieve or end suffering for all those who wish to employ it either as part of a secular or Buddhist-oriented practice. I would highly recommend it to those who are interested in the utility of meditation within various groups who attest to how it has supported and enriched their personal and professional lives.

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