Mindfulness. It’s become a buzzword, permeating everything from Youtube to corporate retreats. Even if you have little sense of what it means to be mindful, you’ve likely encountered the word in your personal and professional life. So if the title of Achim Nowak’s book, The Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating a Mindful Life in a Distracted World, conjures images of mountaintop meditation classes, don’t worry. Nowak strives throughout the text to make the concepts he discusses accessible to all readers. By no means a comprehensive text, The Moment seeks to introduce the reader to “mindful living” using short anecdotes and exercises.
Despite its aim of popular appeal and appropriately frank tone, The Moment may not engage everyone who peruses its pages. Nowak’s experiences as a theater director, acting teacher, and writer traveling the globe to exotic locations are far from universal. The Moment is in many respects a personal text, as driven by Nowak’s personality and public persona as it is by any of the concepts contained therein.
Consequently, established fans of his work will likely find much to enjoy here, whereas newcomers may be titillated or off-put by his autobiographical digressions. To its credit, The Moment admirably embodies its subject: it is a series of moments through which Nowak illustrates his key principles of engaging the senses, creating meaning, cultivating energy, and slowing time. In short, The Moment is a quick, easy read that presents an entertaining introduction to the notion of mindfulness through the lens of Nowak’s unusual life experiences.
No doubt so readers can easily review and return to various concepts, Nowak has divided The Moment into six sections. “The Moment Begins” and the “The Moment Continues” bookend the discussion of what he calls his four keys: “Awaken the Senses,” “Crave Meaning,” “Wave-Ride Energy,” and, “Make Time Stand Still.” The text also includes a forward by author and entrepreneur, Faisal Hoque, who writes glowingly about the book, as well as a brief series of notes for further reading and a fairly thorough index for easy maneuvering. The Moment is nothing if not approachable. It divides further into a series of titled vignettes, each relating different situations to inform our understanding of the text’s key ideas.
The first of these, “Helen at the Airport” relates the story of one of Nowak’s friends, who meets an intriguing man at an airport bookstore. Instead of lingering, she rushes to her plane, only to change her mind at the last minute. When she returns to the bookstore, however, the man is gone, and she regrets having missed her opportunity. This use of narrative dominates The Moment, with Nowak relating his own “moments” or those of his many remarkable acquaintances throughout the text.
These anecdotes take place all over the world from India and the Caribbean to New York City and Washington, DC, lending a particular cosmopolitan sensibility to the reflections and remembered conversations. This is not to say that The Moment takes itself too seriously. Indeed, to his credit, Nowak returns again and again to the statement that his exercises should be enjoyable experiences: “And never forget that these are meant to be joyful explorations, not chores!”
The exercises themselves range from the very simple and easily accomplished—sense isolation accomplished by closing your eyes, focusing on particular objects, eating a meal alone—to the more involved and less universally accessible—having someone unlock your chi. There is nothing particularly revolutionary on the menu in these suggestions.
Nevertheless, a reader new to the notion of mindfulness may be glad for a preliminary roadmap for their explorations. Maybe you would have taken a yoga class without prompting from The Moment, but perhaps you would not have felt comfortable “unobligating yourself” for an afternoon. Notably, Nowak makes ready use of Hindu concepts such as prajna (unconscious wisdom) and Shakti (energy) but in such a way that familiarizes the reader with potentially unfamiliar vocabulary.
At its heart, The Moment seeks to provide readers with opportunities to think about how we engage the world. In a sense, we’re taking a brief moment out of our lives to read this book without worrying about work or family or other commitments. However, as I’ve noted, this is by no means a comprehensive text. It’s a gently written taste of mindful living, delivered from Nowak’s particular perspective. Its success or failure largely depends on what each reader requires of it. If you’re looking for an extensive discussion of mindful living that examines multiple approaches or philosophies, The Moment will be an insufficient offering. If your need is for something you can dip into from time to time for inspiration or guidance, this very well could be the book for you.
The Moment: A Practical Guide to Creating a Mindful Life in a Distracted World
New Page Books, December 21, 2015
Paperback, 92 pages