‘Mindfulness Starts Here’ – The final review

2013 December 23
by Tanya McGinnity

mindfulness

So here we are. The end of my full-on, eight week experiment in working with the practices within ‘Mindfulness Starts Here: An Eight Week Guide to Skillful Living’ by doctors Lynette Monteiro & Frank Musten, founders of the Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic .

Now a quick bit of housekeeping. I’m in the camp of those who believe in the benefits of non-secular mindfulness for those who are may be looking to add a bit of calm to their lives. No, I came to mindfulness and meditation via Buddhism and not vice versa. Be warned that this influences my review of this book and my overall view of MBSR. There’s enough talk online on the debate between getting Buddhism in the mindfulness and mindfulness in the Buddhism as is seen with the great chocolate in the peanut butter debates of yore.

Further to providing my perspective on this book, as someone who has suffered from panic attacks, I believe that nothing beats good old fashioned cognitive therapy. When I’ve taught introductory meditation classes, I’ve been very upfront in letting people know that meditation, deep introspection, breath work and any of the stuff that is done when we choose to embark on such ‘calming’ practices, can actually churn up emotions, chaos and misery rather than offer the rosy glow of benefits that are listed as side effects from these kinds of practices. I’ve experienced first hand what can come from pushing myself into retreats when I wasn’t feeling ready and seen that it’s best to slow down, pull it together and take time rather than jump headfirst into mind training or mindfulness practice. A gentle approach in my opinion is best. I was heartened to see that the authors express a similar caveat in the beginning of this book and as clinical psychologists, I expected no less. This book is not meant for a substitute for counseling just as dharma texts are best paired with a teacher to help one with their dharma practice.

Overall, ‘Mindfulness Starts Here: An Eight Week Guide to Skillful Living’ is a guidebook that is right up there with those of Jon Kabat Zinn and while shorter in length, delivers a well structured eight week program that evolves with the reader as they complete each chapter.  I appreciated the book for its use of science, psychology and the literary references woven throughout. ‘Mindfulness Starts Here’  is a useful read for both clinicians who have some interest in using MBSR practices with their patients as well as those who are interested in learning the techniques. The authors have created a guide that isn’t too technical or too watered down and I appreciate their attention to covering such a diverse audience of readers.

The only drawback I experienced during my time with the book was that I found it difficult to practice diligently given other circumstances within my day to day. Given this, I would advise that this kind of home practice is best done with effort and a commitment to seeing it through, otherwise one may fall off the wagon, and as I experienced, the 8 week program became a 12-14 week program. I think to keep up the momentum, it is best to clear some time to do the work. This is a failing of me and not the book I have to admit.

MBSR may or may not be the gateway towards Buddhism but in my opinion it really isn’t about the goal of creating more Buddhists. Being present in the present moment. Living a fuller life free from suffering, pain and fear. These are all potential outcomes from mindfulness practice. ‘Mindfulness Starts Here: An Eight Week Guide to Skillful Living’ provides readers with lasting techniques to help reduce stress and introduce calm. In today’s world, I think we all can use a bit of this.

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