Book Review: Buddha’s Book of Stress Reduction ~ Finding Serenity and Peace with Mindfulness Meditation

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Author: Joseph Emet
Publisher: Tarcher/Penguin
Publish Date: 2013

Stress is a part of life, and cannot be avoided. What has become clear, however, is that in order to avoid some of its negative effects (anxiety disorders, depression and addiction), we must learn to better manage our stress. Crucial to this is the ability to recognize the difference between what we can and can’t control.

One method that has proven its efficacy is mindful meditation. In his new book, Buddha’s Book of Stress Reduction, Dharma Teacher and founder of the Mindfulness Meditation Centre in Montreal, Joseph Emet, presents mindfulness teachings in a very practical and identifiable way; aiming to help the reader avoid stress-related health issues.

In Part 1, ‘The Mind’, one of the fundamentals of mindfulness practice (being in the moment) is introduced and the concepts of both purposive and automatic thinking are explored. It is the automatic thoughts that can cause us stress and anxiety. As Emet explains, a mind engaged in automatic thinking is one that has been hijacked by emotions or wild imagination; it is not in charge.

Automatic thoughts which rehash past experiences or trigger worry about the future take us away from the present moment. Because the voice of automatic thoughts is our own, we trust it and listen, even when this listening causes stress and anxiety.

The guided meditation exercise (there is one at the end of each chapter), Labeling Thoughts, focuses on breath awareness and how each is unique and cannot be repeated. The goal is to recognize when you are thinking (often a stress-inducing thought) and to then let it go; just as you let go of each breath.

One of the fundamental precepts of Buddhism, Control and Acceptance, is the focus of the second section of the book. Values and goals, passions, cravings and obsessions are all discussed – with the underlying theme of the importance of mindfulness. Emet believes it is often that which we are unaware of that can rule us. It is awareness that gives us power of choice so that we are not ruled by unhealthy cravings.

In the Mindfulness at the Dining Table practice, Emet advises we take a moment before the meal to let go of any outstanding thoughts or feelings, work worries, or discussions to be had with family members. It is food and its enjoyment that should be the main focus at the dining table. This type of awareness will help to make food something to savour in the moment, not something we are always craving more of,  or using for comfort.

In the chapter Coming to Acceptance, Emet tells the story of Kisa Gotami, a contemporary of the Buddha. In the story, Gotami is overcome with grief, unable to accept the death of her child. When she asks the Buddha to cure her son he says he could, but only if she can bring him mustard seeds from a home where no family member has died. After failing to meet these requirements, and upon deep reflection, the story goes that Gotami walked to the village cemetery and lovingly buried her infant son. She had come to acceptance. Loss, grief, and hardship did not only happen to her, but is a universal experience that we have no control over and must learn to live with.

Obsessing about past hurts and grievances, worrying about the future, and letting our attitudes, illusions and senses rule our thoughts and actions all contribute to feelings of stress. Buddha’s Book of Stress Reduction, with its simple, yet profound mindful meditation exercises, wise advice, helpful mantras and deeply meaningful stories, quotes and poetry, offers a refreshing and insightful guide for dealing with stress.

If stress is ruling or ruining your life, but you still view meditation as inaccessible or too difficult for you to achieve and sustain, Buddha’s Book of Stress Reduction may provide the right inspiration to lead you “back to an island of peace in [your] heart.”

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