This book review appears in the BACP divisional Private Practice Journal.
Meditation, and mindfulness in particular, is now an accepted and ever popular tool for wellbeing and mental health. Simon Cole has great experience in running retreats in mindfulness and meditation (he seems to draw a distinction between the two), alongside a background as a counsellor and ‘psychological therapist’. The complementary nature of meditation and therapy as routes to personal growth partly motivated him to crystallise his thinking around both into this book. It’s an ambitious one for a small one. It seeks to introduce mindfulness, expound upon its potential to deepen an understanding of one’s internal process and also to introduce his own ‘Clear Space Meditation Path’ which fuses his ideas into a protocol of sorts.
Cole sees contemporary approaches to mindfulness that are ‘too fast becoming intellectualised on one level and trivialised by phone apps…on another’. Many steeped in Buddhist psychology would agree with him, but Cole parts ways with this ancient philosophy to rely upon his own way of synthesising his thoughts. So, he opts for another way of talking about mindfulness rather than rehearsing now well-trodden definitions and explanations. He introduces it as a skill at ‘not being distracted’ before looking at how we inevitably bring distortions into our experiences, and then unpacking how it can be used to illuminate our experiences of our feelings and emotions.
These ideas are clearly useful for therapy but also foundational for the following of his ‘path which adopts a western therapeutic approach, in order to hold the link with day to day living.’ This ‘Clear Space Meditation Path’ is introduced in two chunks, with its application in the biggest middle chapter to the bearing of a number of difficult feelings including disappointment, sadness, regret, remorse, guilt, jealousy, anger, anxiety and stress. ‘Attachment’ is discussed first as it is in the Buddhist literature, as the psychological process which lies at the heart of most human suffering.
Cole explains things further through a case study and example ‘meditation conversation’ that imagines a possible internal experiencing in words. This is a teaching technique familiar to counselling books, but not one I have come across in meditation instruction books before. He also offers four themed meditations to contemplate and enrichen your practice – including ‘ Meditation on Being Alive’ and ‘Meditation on the Experience of Peace’. There’s a lot to consider.
For therapists, Cole’s references to Buber’s I-thou relating, Rogers relational work and Gendlin’s felt-sense ideas will be of interest. Otherwise, this book may be a useful companion for any client interested in accompanying their therapeutic journey with meditation. But I’d recommend they have more background in mindfulness first.