In the hustle and bustle of today’s fast-paced world, the pursuit of inner peace and self-awareness has become an ever-elusive endeavour. For many, the practice of meditation and mindfulness offers a sanctuary amidst the chaos, a path to reconnect with the present moment, and a means to unlock the wisdom within.
This review delves into a book that tackles the profound subject of meditation and mindfulness, offering a unique perspective on these transformative practices. The Wakeful Body by Willa Blythe Baker ventures beyond the conventional realms of meditation, shedding light on the intricate connection between the body, consciousness, and the art of being fully awake.
Willa Blythe Baker, who holds a doctoral degree, serves as a Buddhist instructor, writer, and translator. She established the Natural Dharma Fellowship in Boston, Massachusetts, and established its retreat centre, Wonderwell Mountain Refuge, in Springfield, New Hampshire.
In this role, she leads programs, fosters community, and leads group retreats. In the 1990s, she undertook seven years of secluded monastic retreat, which resulted in her being granted authorisation as a Buddhist lama.
What is the book about?
The Wakeful Body by Willa Blythe Baker challenges the notion of meditation as a lofty, ethereal pursuit and instead advocates for a grounded, somatic approach. Central to the book’s philosophy is the concept that our bodies are always engaged in a form of meditation through the act of breathing, governed by the autonomic nervous system. By recognising this inherent meditative quality within ourselves, Baker encourages readers to yield to what already exists but may be concealed by the demands of daily life.
The book offers a range of exercises, anecdotes, and historical insights into Eastern thought and meditation traditions to guide both novice and experienced meditators. It serves as a valuable companion for daily meditation practice, helping readers strip away accumulated physical and spiritual impurities to uncover their core essence.
Overall, The Wakeful Body invites readers to become more conscious and aware of their body, mind, emotions, and nervous system, fostering kindness and curiosity. The book is particularly recommended for individuals dealing with PTSD or physical traumas, as it explores the body’s role in maintaining awareness and storing past experiences.
Three key takeaways from The Wakeful Body
1What is somatic mindfulness?
The book introduces the idea of somatic mindfulness, where attention emerges from within the body rather than being controlled externally. Baker emphasises that the body is naturally mindful, and instead of taming the mind’s distractions, this approach encourages surrender and trust in the body’s innate awareness. Through practices like focusing on the breath and allowing the body’s sensations to draw attention back, somatic mindfulness offers a refreshing perspective on meditation. It highlights the reflexive nature of meditation, where attention turns inward to observe the inner landscape, ultimately leading to a more embodied, nonconceptual, and self-aware experience.
2The art of pause can bring a sense of tranquillity and comfort into your everyday life
Baker introduces the concept of the art of pause, which emphasises the importance of incorporating moments of mindfulness into our daily lives. She shares an experience from a monastery where mindfulness bells rang throughout the day, prompting everyone to pause and be present in the moment. Initially sceptical, the author gradually appreciated the practice as it interrupted the rush of thoughts and brought attention to the body and senses. The author suggests finding your own ‘mindfulness bell’ in everyday life, a sound or cue that prompts you to stop, enter a state of being and fully engage with the present moment. These pauses help disrupt habitual thinking, allowing the experiential body to come alive and enriching our daily experiences.
3Posture, breath and stillness – three major components of meditation
The book offers a nuanced perspective on cultivating a meaningful meditation practice. The book underlines the crucial role of posture, breath and stillness when practising meditation. Posture is not just a physical stance but also an invitation for the heart and mind to settle into a state of ease. Proper posture, with an upright and balanced spine, facilitates the circulation of energy and promotes mental clarity.
The breath is a fundamental anchor for the mind, a powerful tool to calm the mind’s conceptual chatter. It is explained that focusing on the breath activates the embodiment circuitry in the brain while diminishing default-mode circuitry, possibly reducing tendencies toward depression and anxiety.
Finally, Baker introduces the concept of stillness in meditation. It likens the mind to a muddy river and meditation to a clear vase placed in that river. Over time, the sediment of thoughts settles, and clarity emerges. It encourages patience in the waiting game of meditation, where stillness gradually finds you, even amidst movement and exhaustion, leading to profound glimpses of awakening and a deep sense of clarity in the nonconceptual space.
Strengths and weaknesses, according to readers’ reviews
Suitable for both beginners and experienced practitioners, offering valuable insights for all.
Offers a rich array of exercises to tap into the body’s wisdom, enhancing meditation practice.
Sparks inspiration and resonates with readers, motivating them to recommit to mindfulness practice.
Some readers find the book burdensome due to the extensive inclusion of personal anecdotes, making it challenging to extract the wisdom it offers.
Best quotes from The Wakeful Body
“An absolute separation between mind and body was first introduced and enshrined by the French philosopher Reneé Descartes, who famously asserted a somatic dualism, that mind and body are inherently and completely separate. His work, which remained influential in America and Europe well into the twentieth century, sparked a debate about the relationship between body and mind that continues today in the fields of philosophy, religion, and the sciences. Is it any surprise that many of us carry a version of this dualism when we come to a contemplative path?”
“To tame our distracted, scattered attention, we turn it toward an object – the breath, for example. At first the mind will not stay focused for long. It bounces away, distracted by a thought or an idea. Or the mind sinks into torpor and forgets entirely what it was doing. What was it we were doing? Oh yes. Then we coax the mind back again to the breath. This happens over and over, a process called placement and replacement.”
“Another powerful metaphor for meditation from the Buddhist lineage is the ocean. The body is still and grounded, like the ocean floor. Our breath rises and falls like the swells on the ocean’s surface. Attention, like an anchor, holds us steady, even while thoughts swim around the edges of our mind like schools of fish. Sense experiences swirl around us like the ocean’s current.”
The Wakeful Body by Willa Blythe Baker offers a unique perspective on meditation and mindfulness that is both accessible and transformative. Baker’s background and experience as a Buddhist instructor and lama shine through in her teachings. While the book has a few weaknesses, such as excessive use of personal anecdotes, its notable strengths encompass its inclusivity, practical exercises, and its capacity to motivate and deeply resonate with readers. “
This book is recommended for individuals seeking to deepen their meditation practice, especially those dealing with trauma or physical challenges, as it explores the body’s role in maintaining awareness and healing.
Where to buy
You may purchase The Wakeful Body on Amazon at the best price. It is available in paperback, audio and Kindle versions, so you may choose an option that appeals to you the most.
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