The headspace guide to mindfulness and meditation – book review

Accord­ing to my Head­space app my jour­ney into mind­ful­ness star­ted around 2015. Back then I had either no interest in med­it­at­ing or no inclin­a­tion to explore Andy Puddicombe’s Bris­tol accent guid­ing me through the basics of mind­ful­ness. Until about a month ago my jour­ney remained aban­doned and I had all but for­got­ten about the app. Some­time last year I picked up Oak — anoth­er won­der­ful app for med­it­at­ing — try­ing to incor­por­ate it into my daily life while my wife picked up Head­space. This brought Andy’s app back on my radar and, for some reas­on I can­not point out reas­on­ably well at the moment, I soon found myself back on Head­space this year.

Some of my suc­cess with Head­space could be attrib­uted to my wife and I adopt­ing a sens­ible fit­ness regi­men, but to say the app does not charm you into med­it­at­ing would be a lie. In terms of help­ing you adopt a con­sist­ent prac­tise of mind­ful­ness the app is more a com­fort­able cush­ion than a whip. It neither dilutes the prac­tice of med­it­a­tion into some­thing abstract and sense­less nor forces you to sit in the lotus pose for hours at a stretch.

There was the con­stant remind­er to ’just relax’ and ‘just let go’. Well, if I knew how to ‘just relax’ and ‘just let go’, then I wouldn’t have been there in the first place. And as for sit­ting 30 or 40 minutes at a time, for­get it.

Crit­ics of Head­space have had a prob­lem with the com­pany for some time now. I have heard some argue that med­it­at­ing for ten minutes a day is laugh­able. I have also heard argu­ments that Andy trained for free (he stud­ied as a monk in a few Asi­an coun­tries and was finally ordained in India, which is also where he began his train­ing) and that he now charges to train oth­ers, mak­ing enough profits to buy a ‘ritzy’ house in Cali­for­nia, which is unfair to the mon­as­ter­ies he trained in. None of that mat­ters because, one, Buddhism does not care about licens­ing its train­ing pro­grammes; two, most learn­ing that turns into a viable busi­ness is based on this or a sim­il­ar mod­el; three, nobody is expec­ted to pay back to their schools after they earn pro­fes­sion­ally and Buddhist mon­as­ter­ies do not offer train­ing on this pre­con­di­tion; four, to me, as a user, Andy and Rich’s work has proved use­ful enough that I have sub­scribed to their med­it­a­tion lib­rary.

As for med­it­at­ing for ten minutes a day — this is where this book review comes in. First released about a year after the com­pany was set up (ori­gin­ally called ‘Get some head­space’) and about a year before the Head­space app was launched, the book dives into Andy’s strategy based on the idea that even ten minutes of med­it­a­tion can make a dif­fer­ence. Besides going through the Basics courses in Head­space read­ing this book gave me a bet­ter appre­ci­ation for Andy’s drive behind the app and med­it­a­tion ses­sions. It makes the ses­sions con­sid­er­able more mean­ing­ful when you read in detail about what drove Andy to start bite-sized mind­ful­ness train­ing courses in the first place.

Mind­ful­ness means to be present, in the moment, undis­trac­ted. It implies rest­ing the mind in its nat­ur­al state of aware­ness, which is free of any bias or judg­ment.

If you read my older art­icles you will know that I am not a sym­path­iser of any­thing bite-sized. But when it comes to med­it­a­tion, devel­op­ing an exper­i­ence over time is far more import­ant than per­form­ing an activ­ity for a peri­od of time, so bite-sized works just fine. Where­as two minutes of read­ing (or twenty seconds going by people’s cur­rent atten­tion spans) is hardly mean­ing­ful com­pared to twenty minutes of the same, ten — or even five — minutes of mind­ful­ness is worth it so long as you prac­tise it con­sist­ently. Andy explains this idea beau­ti­fully in this book: med­it­a­tion is only a third of the whole pic­ture; hav­ing the right approach to med­it­a­tion and even­tu­ally integ­rat­ing it into your daily life ought to be the end goal. This is why hav­ing a ten-minute ses­sion daily is just fine.

I have been med­it­at­ing — or observing mind­ful minutes if you will — for a few weeks now, more or less daily, for no more than ten minutes a day and I already exper­i­ence a mild dif­fer­ence in the way I approach things.

By chan­ging the way in which you see the world, you effect­ively change the world around you.

The book car­ries exer­cises through­out. It starts of as simply as it can, by ask­ing you to sit idle for a few minutes, and then ramps it up from there. These, espe­cially, are a great addi­tion to the Basics course in the Head­space app.

Med­it­a­tion is not some new mys­ter­i­ous idea: it is simply exer­cise to strengthen your mind the way lift­ing weights or doing car­dio is exer­cise for to devel­op your physique. So, like any exer­cise, it is import­ant to under­stand med­it­a­tion and prac­tise it reg­u­larly to be able to see its pos­it­ive effects on your daily life. And this is what Andy describes in this book through sev­er­al anec­dotes (he nev­er expects you to learn med­it­a­tion through anec­dotes, though, choos­ing, instead, to use straight­for­ward instruc­tion, which I am per­son­ally happy about) start­ing from how he escaped over the walls of a mon­as­tery all the way to how he and Rich foun­ded Head­space.

If you are inter­ested in med­it­a­tion, Head­space is a great app to pick up — and sub­scribe to — right away. If you like the app do read this book because it gives you a much bet­ter per­spect­ive on what Head­space is all about. Do I feel Head­space or this book is help­ing me focus? I can­not say because I nev­er had a prob­lem focus­ing. But it is help­ing me take a few minutes off daily to reflect on my day in a con­sid­er­ably more effi­cient man­ner than before. That counts for a lot.

In fact, Head­space is not about mak­ing drastic improve­ments to a select part of your life (although the titles in the Head­space lib­rary might give you that impres­sion). It is more about mak­ing your life­style rich­er over­all and the bet­ter you under­stand this the more effect­ive Head­space becomes. To end with, here is a para­graph that I par­tic­u­larly liked where Andy speaks about this notion of how mind­ful­ness is meant to become an integ­ral part of your life rather than an activ­ity in your life for which you set aside time:

There’s no need to give everything up, or rad­ic­ally change your life­style in any way. Dra­mat­ic changes like this are rarely sus­tain­able, which is what makes a mind­ful way of liv­ing so achiev­able. You can keep liv­ing as you always have done, if that’s what you want to do. Mind­ful­ness is about learn­ing how to change your exper­i­ence of that life­style.

As Andy puts it in the book, ‘By chan­ging the way in which you see the world, you effect­ively change the world around you.’