Top critical review
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Not bad, but not great
on 19 October 2010
We are not our thoughts, Jonty and Ed (as the authors would companionably have us think of them) remind us. Thoughts, whether positive or negative, should know their place - that they are the product of the mind, that they are not in control of us, that we are in control of them. Except that's easier said than done. Life in the modern world often moves at too fast a pace to manage our thoughts, feelings, fears and dreams, so we spend much of the time on autopilot, simply reacting to the world according to learned habits rather than making conscious decisions.
Nothing really to complain about with the authors' philosophy here, nor their argument that stress, depression, anxiety and chronic illnesses caused or exacerbated by this mindless sprint through life could be helped by slowing down, taking a considered look, and retraining your brain to be open rather than reactionary, through meditation. They make such a thorough argument, in fact, that there isn't much room left for actual practical advice. After all the talk of theories, research, statistics, case studies and their own personal experiences, there's less than 30 pages out of over 270 that actually tell you how to do what they recommend.
Straightforward instructions guide the novice in focusing on breathing, allowing thoughts to pass by, becoming attuned to what the body is saying, and recognising that thoughts may originate in the mind but are under your control. But there would have been room for a lot more of that if the book was not so bloated with repetition, explaining the advantages of meditation over and over. If you're the kind of person who is attracted to the ideas behind this book then you probably don't need that much convincing in the first place.
Similarly unnecessary was their repeated disavowing of the spiritual ideas behind Buddhism whilst trying to pinch and secularise everything else. They are trying to strip the 'New Age-yness' from meditation for a readership who probably doesn't care where the practice came from, so long as it works.
At times the book came across a bit like a brochure for the authors' website, or even a meditation centre in London they namedrop several times. I couldn't help but feel that if they'd stripped all this extraneous material out and cut the journalistic self-affirmation they would have a book much more to the point. But maybe when you get past the waffle you find there's nothing really new here, however much of a spin there is put on it.