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February 15, 2011

No sketches of insects in Sharon Salzberg’s New Book, Real Happiness. ~ Dan Slanger

A review of Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation

I’m a poor gift-giver. I often find thin excuses to avoid giving gifts—I am not going to add any more distracting plastic to my two-year-old nephew’s already fractured attention span. And I often turn any unavoidable gift-giving into an effort to make someone like what I like—it’s a book of Kierkegaard‘s journals!

This is why I spent last Christmas Eve looking for a copy of my favorite book on meditation. Shunryu Suzuki’s Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind reads like so much gibberish to anyone not already steeped in Zen’s manner of speaking. So it was a (slightly) richer part of me that bought two books that night: Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind but also Mindfulness in Plain English, a book that drops some of the dual-less language and random sketches of insects in favor of straightforward instructions on how to meditate.

The two paired well. However, had it been on the shelf back then, I might well have bought Sharon Salzberg‘s Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation instead of Mindfulness in Plain English. For Ms. Salzberg has, without a single “Big Mind” or “Buddha Nature,” written a wise, compelling, and self-contained curriculum for starting (or deepening) a meditation practice.

The 200-page book begins by defining meditation—the practice of concentration and awareness—and building a case for why it’s worth our twenty minutes—the happiness and compassion it almost invariably brings and the recent research that clearly connects those benefits with meditation.

But the book’s core consists of a four-week, four-chapter meditation course. Each chapter introduces a different aspect of meditation—concentration, body awareness, emotional awareness, and lovingkindness—and guides the reader (with the optional help of an audio CD) through specific practices to realize each aspect and leave the course with a well-rounded repertoire.

The second-subtitle of Happiness is A 28-Day Program. Twenty-eight is nine less than the number of years Ms. Salzberg has been teaching people how to subtly sit still and kindly note their breath. This helps explain why Happiness takes such successful pains to leave no reader behind by tying practice to a particular philosophic or religious tradition or by failing to skillfully address any of the usual blocks to starting and keeping a practice.

Dan recently moved to Boulder to be with mountains and friends.

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