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“Simply Mindful,” by Donald Altman: Book Review

"May all beings be well, happy, and at peace; May all beings be free from pain, hunger and suffering."

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A Washington Post article entitled “How loving kindness meditation can help you deal with even the most annoying people” that highlighted the work of Donald Altman piqued my interest so I decided to read his latest book, “Simply Mindful: A 7-week Course and Personal Handbook for Mindful Living.”

Altman is a psychotherapist, a former Buddhist monk, an outstanding teacher (I attended one of his workshops) and a gifted writer. “Simply Mindful” is the culmination of many years of study and research and expertly lays out a 7-week program for both novices and experienced meditators to live mindfully or more mindfully. Mindfulness is not a panacea but when understood and applied properly, it offers the real-life benefits of greater calm, better and healthier connection to others, and resilience for dealing with the vicissitudes of life. 
 
 “Simply Mindful” is designed for individuals, educators, coaches, counselors and businesspeople who want a step-by-step approach to learning and applying mindfulness to their quotidian lives. What I appreciated most about this book was Altman’s commitment to the Buddhist lineage. Yes, one of the benefits of secularized mindfulness is calmness — a 15 minute reprieve from the stresses of consumer-based capitalism — but without the buttresses of the Buddhist paradigm mindfulness is a band-aid solution (as Professor Ron Purser so astutely points out in “McMindfulness”). Having practiced as a monk, Altman is able to deliver a clear understanding of the core concepts of mindfulness, along with skills for learning and applying it at work, at home, and in relationships.

In particular, I loved his concentration — as discussed in the Washington Post — on Loving Kindness Meditation (LKM), which inspires all practitioners to espouse compassion and “be the change they want to see in the world.” Altman’s version of the Metta Meditation (LKM) is: 

“May I be well, happy, and at peace; May I be free from pain, hunger and suffering.”

He then instructs the reader to direct the meditation towards other people in order of decreasing affection: first, replace the “I” with the name of a mentor or teacher: 

“May Professor Smith be well, happy, and at peace; May she be free from pain, hunger and suffering.”

Then with the name of a family member or friend:

“May my brother be well, happy, and at peace; May he be free from pain, hunger and suffering.”

Then a neutral person (for example, someone you see frequently in a local shop but don’t know well): 

“May the cashier at the juice bar be well, happy, and at peace; May he be free from pain, hunger and suffering.”

Finally with the name of a difficult or unfriendly person. 

“May (insert name of least favorite politician) be well, happy, and at peace; May he be free from pain, hunger and suffering.”

End the meditation by spreading the blessing to all living beings, without discrimination.

“May all beings be well, happy, and at peace; May all beings be free from pain, hunger and suffering.”

The Buddha began his journey searching for the origins of suffering… not the suffering caused by “annoying people” as mentioned in the Washington Post article but how human consciousness internally (left to its own devices even without annoying other people) creates suffering. Respecting the Budda’s prescriptions to alleviate that suffering, Donald Altman in “Simply Mindful” has masterfully provided an elegant process to help people in contemporary society manage stress, improve relationships, boost creativity, and enhance productivity.

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