Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana explains the myths, realities and benefits of meditation and mindfulness. The book provides a step-by-step guide to cultivate mindfulness for greater focus, clarity, peace and happiness. The book focuses on Vipassana meditation (a Buddhist meditation practice), but the insights are applicable regardless of your religious affiliation. In this Mindfulness in Plain English summary, we’ll explain what’s mindfulness and meditation, followed by an overview of the key techniques and tips shared by Bhante G. For the full details, examples and tips, do get a copy of the book, or get a detailed overview with our complete book summary bundle.
Overview: Mindfulness in Plain English
Why Bother with Mindfulness?
It’s human nature to feel dissatisfied with life and to want more. We enjoy temporary highs from pleasures or successes, but regularly slip back into stress, envy or discontent. That’s because we’re stuck in a mental treadmill of desire vs aversion.
We tend to mentally categorize our experiences into 3 boxes: good, bad or neutral. Then, we cling on to what we think is “good”, avoid/ reject what we think is “bad”, and ignore/neglect everything else. We end up chasing pleasures, avoiding pain, and ignoring 90% of our experiences.
We become prisoners of this mental treadmill. We suffer when we face mishaps/losses. We even suffer when we experience success, since we’re afraid to lose what we’ve gained. So, we’re constantly trying to protect what we have, get even more, then cling on to what we’ve gained. We tell ourselves: “If only I had X, all my problems will be solved” or “If only I had Y, I’d be happy.”
Ultimately, all of us want peace and happiness. Meditation can help us achieve that by stepping outside our mental treadmill. When you’re acutely aware of your thoughts and actions, you can recognize your desires without obsessing over them, face your fears without being crippled by them, see yourself without illusion or judgment, and understand how you fit in with other human beings. These help you to think/act with greater focus, clarity and intuition.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is the English translation of the Pali word sati, which can also mean “bare attention”. We first become aware of something through a subtle, fleeting state of non-conceptual awareness. This happens for a split second before our mind starts to process it consciously and attach labels and concepts to form conscious thoughts (e.g. “it’s a dog” or “it’s a cute dog”). Mindfulness is about seeing reality as it is without judgment or biases.
During meditation, you seek to watch your own thoughts and responses with calm detachment (instead of being caught up in them). It trains your mind to prolong that moment of full awareness when you see things as they are without distortion.
There are many approaches to meditation. This book specifically presents the vipassana system of meditation, which is the oldest Buddhist meditation practice.
In a nutshell, vipassana is about observing your mind in a calm, detached way to gain insight into your own actions. Specifically, vipassana teaches you to direct your attention to 1 aspect of your existence each time, examining it with such precision and clarity that you can see right through to its fundamental reality, thus gaining deep insight.
In our full version of the Mindfulness in Plain English summary (get full 17-page summary here), we further elaborate on:
• The key characteristics of mindfulness and 2 essential ingredients of meditation: concentration and mindfulness;
• Why our mental distortions create worry, anxiety and misconceptions, and how meditation works to counter them;
• The various myths and misconceptions of meditation: what exactly it is and isn’t;
• The concepts of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness; and
• The benefits of meditation and mindfulness.
Cultivating your Mindfulness Practice
Besides explaining meditation and mindfulness in plain English, Bhante G. also breaks down how to start meditating and cultivating your mindfulness practice. This is like a step-by-step guide that walks you through how to (i) adopt the right attitude, (ii) get started, (iii) manage your body and mind, (iv) deal with distractions and problems that come up during meditation, and (v) structure a sustainable practice. Here’s an overview of the key areas addressed in the book. You can also get a detailed walk-through from our complete summary bundle:
Your end-goal is to use the seated sessions to train your mind and cultivate new mental habits. That way, you can be mindful throughout the day, and remain calm and strong in face of daily pressures.
In our full version of the Mindfulness in Plain English summary, we also explain how to go beyond seated meditations to incorporate mindfulness into your everyday life (e.g. using walking meditations, observing your postures during daily activities etc.). With practice, you’ll (i) develop the mental habit of “catching” your mind when it drifts and bringing it back to your object of focus, (ii) see things as they are (without adding or subtracting from them to distort reality), and (iii) perceive the true nature of all phenomena without conscious thought.
Other Details in “Mindfulness in Plain English”
This is a detailed guidebook that demystifies the concepts of mindfulness and meditation, and explains how you can cultivate your mindfulness practice with clear, simple steps.
Besides the tips captured in this summary, the book also includes background on the origins and concepts of meditation, how they relate to Western scientific discoveries, and how to address common concerns or obstacles to mindfulness. It also includes stories and daily examples to explain various Buddhist concepts (e.g. impermanence, loving friendliness, dealing with anger etc.). Do get a copy of the book for the full details, get our full summary bundle for an overview of the various concepts, techniques and tips.
Use this step-by-step guide to cultivate mindfulness for better focus, peace and happiness!