In Modern Mindfulness, Rohan Gunatillake argues that to lead more mindful, calm and happy lives, switching off is the last thing we need to do. Instead he gives readers ideas, principles, and techniques to bring awareness, composure, and kindness whatever they are doing. Filled with over sixty practical exercises, the author’s mobile mindfulness approach gives the benefits of meditation to even the busiest of lives.
My job can be stressful so my friend recommended a meditation app, something I could do during stolen moments that would help me gain a little peace. I sat down in the hospital coffee shop and… I tried. I really did. But I had to crank up the sound to drown out a crying baby, people were looking at me funny, and I kept opening one eye to make sure my purse was still there. Still lots of stress, not so much peace.
Gunatillake outlines a method that doesn’t require quiet or closed eyes or even stillness. There are exercises you can do while walking, commuting, and sitting at your computer. Modern life feels hectic but there are many moments we can leverage to get back in touch with our body and mind.
There are six core techniques that start with simpler, easier to grasp topics (relaxation, focus, being present) and move through more complex ideas (coping, connection, going deeper). Each has a guided meditation which, to be honest, I was skeptical of, but ended up liking them more than any audio meditations I’ve tried. Here’s part of one I read while commuting by train:
…there is no need to judge our posture as to whether it is slovenly or sublime, just pay attention to it as it is.
Pay attention in as simple and direct a way as possible right now.
Take as long as you need.
I was standing and that was okay. I was slouching, and that was okay. I could look out the window while taking stock of my body for as long as I needed without anyone mumbling in my ear about the next thing. All okay, all relaxing and peaceful.
After each core meditation there are ten related mobile exercises and they are my favorite part of the book. Many are linked with some kind of trigger that act as reminders throughout your day to check in and be mindful. For example, now and then eat breakfast with no distractions, concentrating on the experience of eating. When you pick up your phone note why you reached for it – boredom? loneliness? – and try sitting with that emotion instead of checking twitter. When you see someone on the street who’s happy let that feeling resonate with you and celebrate with them.
I now have ways to be mindful when I step out the door, when I have a minute between patients, and when my mind is racing on the bus ride home. It’s exactly what I wanted and needed.
Some more of the good – Gunatillake keeps mindfulness and religion in separate boxes, which this agnostic appreciates. And he points out that some techniques won’t work, and that’s okay:
Sometimes we can look the difficult directly in the face and other times we need to play the relaxation card, moving our attention somewhere more tolerable. This is not a failure; it is wisdom.
In the introduction he says that formal practice (sitting and concentrating on the breath) is secondary to the mobile exercises. This made me very happy… until chapter eight or so, when the story changes to ‘but really, formal practice is important and the base of mindfulness, so make sure you do it’. I may have been more receptive to this switch if I were working through the books and techniques slowly, but it was a frustrating change when reading the book in one go.
My other critique is that Gunatillake’s scope is narrow, with meditations centered on experiences of white collar workers commuting via public transportation. He assumes that everyone works at an office and is surrounded by concrete which is distancing if, like me, you don’t. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed yet but meetings at work are really boring,” he says, so clearly he’s never met with a bunch of interpreters! (Seriously, it’s our job to a) talk, b) care, and c) do what needs doing. It makes for great meetings.)
Anywho… people who live in the country will laugh at the idea of “spend[ing] a short time experiencing a park or a green space”, and there’s a lack of techniques tailored to service jobs or manual labor or even driving. It doesn’t take away from the exercises but it feels like a missed opportunity.
That being said I really like Modern Mindfulness. I’m looking forward to going back through it slowly and spending a week or two on each core technique while building up my mindfulness muscle. If you’ve been meditating for a while you may not squeeze as much out of the pages but it was just what this neophyte needed.
Thanks to St. Martin’s Griffin and NetGalley for providing a review copy.