Book Review: The Mindfulness Diaries by Jennifer Howd

Readers experience what goes on inside the head of a participant at a nine-day silent meditation retreat

Many of us have a hard time going silent or meditating for nine minutes, imagine what it would be like to sit in silence for nine days. In The Mindfulness Diaries by Jennifer Howd readers can experience what goes on inside the head of a participant at a nine-day silent meditation retreat. If you’re one who finds nine seconds of silence intimidating, you may think reading about a retreat like this might be as painful as attending one. But, this quick and hilarious read is satisfying (and not in a fleeting sugar binge kind of way). The satisfaction is substantial and may even change how you think; about the world, the people in it, and even your thoughts.

The Mindfulness Diaries isn’t another meditation manual or tutorial with lofty theoretical dogma. It’s not the memoir of a wanna-be-guru either. Howd has made mindfulness a way of life and is still having the same worries and judgments as the rest of us, showing us that we can reap the benefits of a mindful life without thinking we need to be perfect first.

Throughout the story, Howd presents an accessible explanation of mindfulness that dispels the myth that a quiet mind is required and will help anyone who gave up on meditating because they thought they weren’t doing it right. Howd explains how her thoughts hijack her experiences and how her meditation practice negotiates a release and return to peacefulness. The whole routine is affectionately labeled “Rinse.  Repeat.”  When the thoughts come, rinse your mind and wash them away, and then, of course, repeat because the thoughts will inevitably return. It is a practice, after all, perfection is not the goal.

When the thoughts return for Howd she explains the strategy of labeling. Howd describes getting irritated early on in the retreat by a fidgety person next to her and along with the thoughts come a wave of judgment.  “Judging, judging” she says to herself to prevent attaching to the thoughts at first… but the thoughts are persistent and she ends up in a full hijack. In a delightfully human moment, she gets word from a teacher that it’s okay to move her spot and does just that.  Problem solved; for now.  More hijacks come when Howd falls ill, gets homesick, and fears losing her mind, but compassion (for self and others) eventually takes over saving the day.

Whether you’re new to mindfulness, have dabbled in meditation, or have an established practice, you can gain something from reading this book. After reading, you will honestly be able to say that you have some insight into what it’s like to attend a nine-day silent meditation retreat. And you’ll likely feel inspired to give yourself a respite from the daily influx of worry and judgment using simple tools you can start using right away.  Even if you’ve never had any desire to undergo a retreat experience, you’ll be glad that Jennifer Howd did it for you and shared the lessons.

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