Monday, March 10, 2014

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion by Christopher K Germer

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion:  Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher K Germer, PhD  is a worthy addition to the pantheon of books on mindfulness meditation and, specifically, metta meditation.  Because of his experience as a psychologist, the author brings more of a clinical rationale for the power of meditation. 

This is not to suggest that the book is tedious to read.  He intersperses the book with various stories from his work with counselees and refers to research without getting too caught up in numbers along with quotes from poetry and other sources, including a collection of relevant and amusing cartoons.  The book begins with the usual “why mindfulness” approach, laying a foundation for the various types of meditation practice that will be introduced throughout the book.  Germer takes a gradual approach to meditation, beginning with mindfulness, focusing on the breath, for a mere 5 minutes. 

There are other meditation practices introduced—walking meditation, sound meditation—building up to longer practices and eventually metta meditation.  Even the metta meditation is introduced gradually.  For those unfamiliar with metta meditation, the practitioner begins by repeating several phrases (May I be safe/May I be happy/ May I be healthy/May I live with ease) and then moves onto meditation not on the “I” but on others—a neutral person, a person who brings happiness (or mentor), a person who has hurt or angered the meditator, and all sentient beings in general.  Germer suggests staying with the first phrases, focusing on the self, before moving onto the other phrases.  (He even goes so far to say that some meditation teachers suggest repeating only this for over a year.  Can you imagine?)

Through his experience as a psychologist, he explains how the process of practice changes, much the way a romantic relationship evolves.  This is not surprising because metta meditation begins with loving yourself, and, with self-compassion at the core of the meditation practice, the practitioner is building a relationship with the self, one that will go through the same stages as any other, from rose-colored love to disenchantment to, eventually but gradually, acceptance.  I hadn’t really thought about how interconnected self-compassion and acceptance are.  That is one thing I will take away from this book.  Actually, there are other things that I will take with me and I wish I had read this book with someone else.  I’ll want to read it again, to take the time to do each of the practices he describes and explore them more carefully.  But I chose this book for one of my “monthly reads” and pushed myself to finish it rather than really explore it.  In the meantime, I’m definitely looking for ways to begin a meditation practice even as my life seems to be changing.  We’ll see how that goes.


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