Book Review: Mindfulness in Action
Mindfulness in Action: Making Friends with Yourself Through Friendliness and Everyday Awareness (Shambhala Publications, 2015) is the newest in a series of books based on talks by Chogyam Trungpa, edited by Carolyn Rose Gimian. Other books that Ms. Gimian has compiled include Shambhala: Sacred Path of the Warrior, Great Eastern Sun, Work Sex & Money, The Sanity We Are Born With, The Mishap Lineage, and Smile at Fear. Many of usost of us would consider these “classic” Shambhala literature. For an excellent and thorough account of Trungpa’s input and the editing process, we recommend reading her introduction to volume eight of The Collected Works of Chogyam Trungpa.
This book is quite rich and enjoyable. It mixes things up and uses words and metaphors not already in the pantheon of Shambhala dharma, but would also be easy for a beginning meditator (are there even any of those left?) to understand. The is a feeling of newness and freshness to the entire thing, which is quite remarkable considering that Trungpa passed away more than twenty-five years ago.
The book is laid out in three sections. It begins with the view of friendliness and gentleness towards yourself before the actual meditation instructions in the first section. Section two looks at the foundations of mindfulness: the mind and its inner workings. The last section, the section which may at times be hardest for someone new to these teachings to understand, delves deeper into what is referred to as mindfulness in action. The development of ego is discussed in a fresh way, which in and of itself may be worth the look for people who have been in Shambhala a while and would like a refresher.
There are a couple of moments throughout the book which are almost confusing, that for a beginner might cause some questions arise. These relate around the way the book has been edited, as if Chogyam Trungpa himself was writing this book, including phrases such as “In Chapter 3 I will give you instruction…” and “In this book…” This gives us the impression as if he himself wrote this book and is presenting it to us, and we know he didn’t. Nevertheless Ms. Gimian has done a masterful job editing and compiling this information from a number of sources.
Each chapter in Mindfulness in Action could itself be read many times. The language feels quite fresh and the metaphors are new. One example that sticks out, from a chapter discussing the skandhas, the construction of our egos or our self-identity, Trungpa Rinpoche says, “Our individuality is really a heap or a pile of disappointment, hope, fear, and millions and billions and trillions of other things. All these little fragments put together are what we call our self and our life. Our pride of self-existence or sense of being is by no means one entity. It is a heap, a pile of stuff. It has some similarities to a pile of garbage. When we refer to something as garbage, we are speaking not about one thing but about a collection of many different things that make up the garbage-ness. All these elements are collected and mixes with one another. As they decay, they become extremely smelly. What we call our selves or our ego is similarly an amalgam of many things put together.” (p. 131)
There is a beautiful emphasis in the beginning of the book on gentleness and friendliness. The first section is really beautiful, and has a strong emphasis on being kind, while at the same time being genuine and honest with ourselves. During the entire meditation process, from when we even sit down to the end, there is a sense of appreciation for our world and our environment. This entire process starts with a genuine cultivation of a positive attitude towards ourselves.
The last few chapters of the book get into relating with our emotions and the overall post-meditation experience. For example, from Chapter 20, The Fringe of Our Emotions, “Applying mindfulness in everyday life makes our experience much more spacious, and it also brings an awareness of the whole environment. That is the sign or hallmark of developing insight: starting to see the situation as a whole. If you are stacking wood, you are not only mindful of piling one log on top of another, but you are also aware of the whole woodpile and the space around it. If you’re swimming in a lake, you have an awareness of the whole expanse of the water.”
What this book really excels is in expressing Chogyam Trungpa’s care and love for all of us. This is apparent on every page—he’s got nothing to gain in this, there’s no advertising, it’s almost as if he’s pleading with us not to rush and to be less aggressive. He can’t do it; only we can. Slow down, relax, and enjoy life and all its precious moments.
To learn more about how to get this book yourself, please click here.