I’ll be honest: I was a bit hesitant to read yet another book about meditation. The market is flooded with meditation how-to’s and after a while, they all blend together. This one, however, stands out, and in a good way. This is a revised version of the 2004 edition and I have to say, I enjoyed the book, not just for its practical information but also for its enthusiastic yet down-to-earth tone.
The author says she wrote most of the book in meditation, which means that the book itself is a meditation. I love that! From a practical standpoint, Ms. Lang lists all the usual ways meditation can improve your life, including the medical data about it. One aspect of meditation she points out, and that is often glossed over in this kind of ‘instruction manual,’ is that meditation is cumulative. Even if there are gaps of time between your bouts of meditation, once you’ve started, you never go back all the way to the beginning. You build on what you’ve already done.
Ms. Lang also points out that many of us enter meditative statues during our daily activities, so we already have everything we need to take the next spiritual step. As she puts it, “Meditation is an elegant mental discipline that increases our spiritual connection.” Meditation can help us remember who we really are.
The book is divided into three parts. First is The Art of Meditation, which is essentially a meditation about meditation – its history, its value, what it can mean in your life. The second part, The Practice of Meditation, discusses the various methods for undertaking meditations as a part of daily life, including good advice for those times when it feels like we’re not doing it well or profoundly enough. The third part is the meditations themselves. They’re written out in the book and are also available as MP3 downloads from her website. I followed the link listed in the book and had no trouble finding, downloading and using the meditations. Ms. Lang points out that the meditations are a good beginning, and you can use them as long as you want, but you should also feel free to move on from them if you feel that is right for you. I like that she empowers the reader that way.
This book has no particular spiritual slant or tradition that flavors it, but as a Pagan, I find it practically shouts ‘Thou are God/dess’ to me. Ms. Lang points out what many spiritual traditions teach but many meditation books miss: the idea that, as each one of us takes another step down the path, it makes the journey easier for everyone. We are all connected. So improving yourself has a greater consequence, a positive effect all around. The author also notes that our consciousness is all we take with us when we die; whatever spiritual or soul growth we can attain in this life becomes part of our eternal self. Definitely food for thought.
Ultimately, meditation is a very simple practice. Ms. Lang notes that many people give up, thinking they’re doing it wrong, when it feels too ordinary. Her helpful instructions include choosing a place to meditate on a regular basis. The more often you use the same spot, the more it will develop a peaceful and meditative energy, so going there (or even just thinking about it) will bring up that energy in you. I have friends who would call this a ‘spiritual hack’ but regardless of the name, it’s a very useful bit of information. Ms. Lang talks about how to tell if you’re really ‘there’ in meditation or if it’s just your imagination, how to ask a question in meditation, and how to decide whether or what to focus on. I especially like Ms. Lang’s metaphor of your meditative inner world being a private temple you take with you everywhere.
As much as this is an instruction manual, it’s also a philosophical treatise on meditation, not in a high-and-mighty kind of way, but in a very down-to-earth way that’s approachable and reassuring. The best advice she offers is, “Be willing to not know for a while.” You don’t have to understand the whole universe, or even your own psyche, on the first try.
More than anything, this book feels like a spiritual pep talk, a reminder that we have infinite possibilities within us. That kind of relentless enthusiasm usually annoys me, even when it’s sincere, but in this case it is tempered with compassion and the feeling that the author honestly wants each and every one of us to be happy and fulfilled. I finished the book with a warm feeling and the sense that I had learned something valuable, and that’s about the highest recommendation I can give for any book.
~review by Laura Perry
Author: Diana Lang
New World Library, 2004/2015
pp. 95, $14.00