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Lions Roar : July 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2012 77 for years, and this is now being matched by mainstream publica- tions. The pedigree of some book authors is interesting, too. It’s not just meditation teachers, therapists, or even celebrities like Goldie Hawn who are urging us to be mindful nowadays, but politicians, corporate whiz kids, and professors of neuroscience. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect The Way You Think, Feel, and Live—And How You Can Change Them is a career autobiography of Richard Davidson, the world’s preeminent neuroscientist of meditation. His unfolding story offers a fascinating marker of how times have changed over a working life. In one of the many enchanting anecdotes that bring life to the book, Davidson recalls the disapproving reac- tion of one professor to his first published study, which revealed that experience in meditation was associated with less anxiety and improved attention. “Richie,” he was informed sternly “if you wish to have a successful career in science, this is not a very good way to begin.” Faced with such resistance, Davidson parked his curiosity about the mechanisms of meditation and turned to examining A STORY TOLD BY MARK WILLIAMS, director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, illustrates the dim view of contemplative practice that was once com- mon in health care circles. During the early days of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), the course he developed with John Teasdale and Zindel Segal to help people prone to depression, Williams recalls being accosted by a colleague at a psychology conference. “Is it really true what I hear?” the colleague spluttered. “That John Teasdale is meditating with his patients?” “It is true,” replied Mark, “and so am I.” The man, he says, was “clearly appalled.” These days, such a reaction would be highly unlikely in the medical mainstream. Programs that teach mindfulness, like MBCT, have the weight of scientific evidence on their side, and people who would once have scoffed are eulogizing the health- giving effects of meditation. The change arguably began when Jon Kabat-Zinn started teaching a stress reduction course at the University of Massachusetts in 1979, bringing his Buddhist training to a con- text where it seemed more skilful to teach meditation in a dis- tinctly secular way. Out went religious robes, gurus, and shrines, and in came raisin-eating and randomized controlled trials. As the approach spread, meditative practice shed some of its hippie, New Age associations, and flourished, perhaps in its essence, as a practical, testable method for the relief of suffering. Scientific studies of the courses, showing many benefits to well-being, started to bring an impressive credibility to what had previously been seen by many people as weird or flaky. Peer- reviewed literature on mindfulness has been growing in volume Reviews Mainstreaming Mindfulness ILLUSTRATION©ALANGORDON THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF YOUR BRAIN by Richard Davidson Hudson Street Press 2012; 304 pp., $25.95 (cloth) A MINDFUL NATION by Tim Ryan Hay House 2012; 203 pp., $19.95 (cloth) SEARCH INSIDE YOURSELF by Chade-Meng Tan HarperOne 2012; $26.99 (cloth) REVIEWED BY ED HALLIWELL