Mindfulness: A book review by Bob Morris

MindfulnessMindfulness, 25th anniversary edition (A Merloyd Lawrence Book)
Ellen J. Langer
DeCapo/Perseus Group (2014)

How and why almost anyone can achieve mindfulness that will accelerate personal growth and professional development

Note: This review is of the 25th Anniversary Edition.

No doubt because this is a second edition, of a book published 25 years ago, some may incorrectly assume that much (if not most) of its insights and counsel are dated, hence obsolete. No so. In fact, in my opinion, the material is more relevant now than ever before as Ellen Langer shares her thoughts about how ever-alert mindfulness can help to facilitate, indeed expedite personal growth and professional development.

As she observes, “A vast literature about mindfulness has filled scholarly and popular journals since I began this work. Much of the recent research [as of autumn 2014 when she wrote the Preface from which this passage is excerpted] is actually on various forms of meditation, and the focus is on preventing stress and negative emotions. Meditation is a tool to achieve post meditative mindfulness. regardless of how we get there, either through meditation or more directly by paying attention to novelty and questioning assumptions, to be mindful is to be in the present, noticing all the wonders that we didn’t realize were right in font of us.”

These are among the dozens of passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Langer’s coverage:

o Trapped by [Self-Limiting] Categories (Pages 12-14)
o Acting from a Single Perspective (18-19)
o The Mindless “Expert” (22-24)
o Entropy and Linear Time as Limiting Mindsets (32-35)
o The Power of Context (37-43)
o A Narrow Self-Image (46-50)
o Learned Helplessness (55-56)
o Creating New Categories (65-68)
o Control over Context: The Birdman of Alcatraz (74-76)
o Mindfulness East and West (79-80)
o Outgrowing Mindsets (89-92)
o Growth in Age (94-99)
o Mindfulness and Intuition (114-117)
o Creativity and Conditional Learning (117-127)
o Innovation (136-140)
o The Power of Uncertainty for Managers (140-146)
o Mindfully Different (158-162)
o Disabling Mindsets (162-164)
o Dualism: A Dangerous Mindset (171-174)
o Addiction in Context (180-185)

Long ago, I realized that most limits are self-imposed. (That was perhaps when Pogo the Possum announced, “We have met the enemy and he is us!”) Naively, I concluded, if I set the limits, then I could change them. And I did. I set specific goals that, at that time and in those circumstances, must have seemed audacious.

While I read this book when it was first published and then again recently when I re-read it, I had the feeling that it was written specifically for me, that Langer was doing all she could to help me understand what mindfulness is…and isn’t. Also, helping me to be much more aware on each situation in which I find myself and, especially, to be much more attentive to others.

How can the information, insights, and counsel that Ellen Langer shares be of greatest value? That will vary from one reader to the next. However, my own experience may be of interest. I have found mindfulness most helpful in situations that involve (a) answering an especially important question, (b) solving an especially serious problem, and (c) resisting the appeal of what James O’Toole so aptly characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.”

One final point that I think is critically important: Mindfulness is not a technique or even a state of mind; rather, it is a way of life. Nourishing it is – or at least should be — a never-ending process. Here’s an appropriate metaphor: mindfulness is a personal journey of discovery that is sustained by curiosity, humility, awareness, and (yes) appreciation.

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