REVIEW: Meditation Guide by Monaghan & Viereck
Meditation, the complete guide: Techniques from East and West to Calm the Mind, Heal the Body & Enrich the Spirit, Revised and Expanded Edition, by Patricia Monaghan & Eleanor G. Viereck (New World Library 2011), trade paperback, 372 pages (also available as e-book)
If you are interested in meditation, whether you've never meditated before or you're an experienced meditator curious about forms of meditation other than what you practice—or anywhere in between—you can do no better than than Meditation:the complete guide. This new edition has 10 more chapters than the 1999 edition, plus updates throughout. Patricia Monaghan is author of more than a dozen books, several of them Goddess-related, including The Goddess Faith, The Goddess Companion, Seasons of the Witch (poetry), The Red-Haired Girl from the Bog: the landscape of Celtic Myth & Spirit. She is also editor of anthologies including Goddess in World Culture and the Encyclopedia of Goddesses and Heroines. Eleanor G. Viereck is author of Yoga: Skillful Means and Alaska Wilderness Medicine. Together they bring us in Meditation more than 35 meditation practices, some of which are commonly known among Pagans, Goddessians, Wiccans and others familiar with meditation, and other practices which, if you are like me, you may have never thought of as meditation before.
In the Introduction, the authors explain what meditation is and is not, writing:
Meditation is not a religion. It is not a doctrine or something to to be acquired. Meditation is play rather than work. . . .They consider three ways of approaching meditation: the medical approach, which includes healing, therapy, wellness, and health maintenance; the martial approach, which is performance-related and may be particularly useful to athletes, creative and performing artists, students, and people in the workplace; the spiritual approach, which "may include religion but is not limited to the world’s religious traditions," and whose goal is to create "a balance among the mind, the heart, and the body—or between the body and mind." The Introduction also gives help in choosing a meditation practice that may work best for you and includes FAQS and a self-test to help determine what type of meditator you are.
The book is divided into 10 parts, each describing a different category of meditation. Each part begins with an introduction that also serves a background to the source of the meditation category, so that the book can also be used as, for example, a way to obtain background on at least five different religions, as well as a great variety of meditative practices. Each part contains several chapters on various types of meditation. After exploring the history of and contemporary use of each type of meditation, each of the 43 chapters provides advice on "How to Begin" as well as a "Checklist for Practice" and a list of resources where you can find more information on the chapter's material.
Part 1: "Indigenous Traditions," includes chapters on trance dancing, drumming, and ritual body practices. Part 2: "Yoga," includes chapters on the asanas, breathing, meditation, mantra, and yantra or mandala, and tantra. Part 3: "Buddhism," one of the longer sections of the book, includes an excellent explanation of the various type of Buddhism in its introduction, and then goes on to explore several types of meditation springing from Buddhism including Vipassana (insight meditation), loving-kindness, zazen and other Zen forms, haiku and other meditative poetry, and brush painting. The introduction to Part 4, "Taoism," describes the ancient roots of the Way, including shamanic practice in which the shaman was female, and that the
Taoist emphasis on balancing yin (feminine) and yang (masculine) is a distant echo of the spiritual prestige of early Chinese womenIt includes chapters on T’ai Chi and Qigong. Part 5: "Judaism," includes chapters on The Mussar Movement or Ethical Introspection, and Hitbodedut or Conversations with God. The latter, the authors explain, is a form of kabbalistic meditation developed by Hasidic Jews. Part 6, "Christianity," includes chapters on Contemplative Prayer, Hesychasm or the Jesus Prayer, Taisé Singing, and Quaker Worship. Part 7, Islam, includes Sufi breathing and dancing.
Parts 8, 9 and 10 contain forms that are likely to be familiar to many Pagans, Goddessians, and Wiccans (although not limited to them) as well as some forms that meditators and people in general may not commonly think of as "meditation." Part 8, "Mixed and Modern Forms," discusses candle meditation (with a brief explanation and history of contemporary Paganism and Wicca), free-form meditation groups, labyrinth walking, use of prayer beads, inspirational reading, biofeedback, and the "Body Scan." In the introduction to Part 9, "Creative Meditations," after going into detail about the brain and its wave frequencies, the authors explain that what we usually call meditation and what we usually call artistic activity both occur in the alpha or, less commonly, theta frequencies of brain waves, while normal everyday functioning usually occurs in the higher beta wave frequencies. They continue:
Artistic creativity and traditional meditation practices both demand focus and they both rely on repeated physical actions. . . .Any activity that demands focus and involves some degree of repetitive activity lowers brain wave activity and produces the effects of meditation.Included in Part 9 are Sketching from Nature, Needle Crafts, Journaling, Dialogues with Self, and Visualization. Among the types of meditations discussed in the chapter, "Dialogues with Self," are tarot card and tea leaf reading, which the authors consider a use of "active imagination" that differs from "guided imagery," because "there is no script to follow." Guided imagery, which is often used as part of ritual as well as in private meditation, is discussed in the chapter on Visualization. Affirmations are also included in this chapter. Part 10, "Active Meditations," includes sports, gardening, going on pilgrimage, awareness of and being in nature, remedying pain or grief, listening (for example to ambient sounds or music), and kinesthetic meditations such as unstructured dance forms and exercises that encourage body awareness,
This book certainly lives up to its title of being a "complete guide" to meditation. In fact, it's got to be one of the most useful, informative books on meditation in existence. Meditation takes a wide, or to put it in the vernacular, "big tent," view of its subject, making meditating more accessible and useful to a larger number and variety of people than many other books. It provides the basics, written in a practical, down-to-earth, and easily understandable yet thorough way. Yet even most experienced meditators are likely to find in it information they didn’t previously know.