Ah, isn’t that interesting. How did I get here?
It’s a question many adults will ask themselves at some point in their lives. But instead of circumstantially assigning it a “good” or “bad” answer, authors Elisha Goldstein and Bob Stahl encourage us to focus on the “here.”
In MBSR Every Day: Daily Practices from the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, Goldstein and Stahl offer daily tips and tricks to help readers remain mindful in a fast-moving world.
Goldstein and Stahl highlight many of the practices espoused by mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) program developer Jon Kabat-Zinn. For those not familiar with Kabat-Zinn’s work, MBSR is a combination of mindfulness, meditation, body awareness, and yoga designed to help people reduce stress, increase relaxation, and improve their overall quality of life. The practice has roots in spiritual teachings, drawing heavily from Buddhist practices and yogic philosophy, but the program itself is secular.
Whereas Kabat-Zinn’s Full Catastrophe Living is a larger volume with numerous case studies and in-depth practices, MBSR Every Day works perfectly as a companion book, or even a starter for those looking to dip their toes in the mindfulness waters. It cuts out the case studies, but leaves a handful of inspirational quotes, stories, and techniques. (For those who prefer vocal guidance, the book also includes links to audio exercises.)
Much of the text will appeal to readers who want to jump in and begin to bring mindfulness into their daily routine. How can I stay calm when stuck in traffic? What about being mindful when getting ready for work? How can I stop the negative self-talk? The first of these questions may be a bit clichéd, but most of us do need to be reminded of how not to get stressed in a traffic jam!
The latter sections of the book focus on developing your own personal meditation practice. The authors emphasize body scanning, as well as practicing paying attention to obstacles and addressing them with anecdotes. Are you feeling irritated? Focus on self-compassion. Are you craving activity or food? Focus on curiosity. What is it that you are longing for and why? This is where the common phrase “observe how you are feeling” comes into play. It serves as a reminder that it is okay if we are not sitting with a perfectly clear mind — since, after all, part of meditation is to acknowledge what is on your mind and to simply be.
And so Goldstein and Stahl focus on how we can embrace whatever is to come. “What we resist persists,” they remind us. By focusing on cultivating self-compassion, breaking free from negative self-talk and thoughts, and finding gifts in imperfection, we can begin to accept when things don’t go our way.
The book also prompts readers to explore the depth of their identity, and gives guidance for recovering it should it get lost or become subject to “compassionate fatigue” — something caregivers especially suffer from.
While each section provides helpful tips, readers would do well to absorb the book’s introduction. There, Goldstein and Stahl describe the learning mindset versus the performance mindset. The performance mindset, they write, is goal oriented. We are set up to feel stuck if we don’t meet every expectation. I didn’t meditate well enough, we might think, or, I don’t meditate every day like _____ does. Rather than succumb to the performance mindset, the authors write, we can use the learning mindset and focus on curiosity and growth when faced with difficulties.
Overall, this is a simple book, a kind of starter text. If you are looking for an in-depth book driven by case studies, this is not it.
But if you are looking for an inspirational daily companion piece or for an immediate practice-focused workbook, Goldstein and Stahl might be a good fit. As a graduate of MBSR courses and a fan of Full Catastrophe Living, I can say with confidence that this little book gives readers vital guidance, even as it cuts to the chase.
MBSR Every Day: Daily Practices from the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction
New Harbinger, June 2015
Paperback, 224 pages