Breath by Breath: The Liberating Practice of Insight Meditation by Larry Rosenberg is one of the better books on meditation I’ve read. It’s a terrific introduction by the founder and resident teacher of the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center in Massachusetts.
The problem with most of the stuff I read on the topic is it’s either inaccessibly technical / arcane, or too new-agey and lacking in substance. Breath by Breath strikes a good balance: it seems faithful to some of the key ideas expressed by the Buddha in the original Pali language while at the same time expressing in clear English how a meditation practice functions in modern life. There are also specific instructions and tips for those looking to strengthen their practice.
The emphasis on breath continues to be the most practical aspect of my practice. I have a very subtle perception of my breath and this allows me to return to the present moment more easily.
Some other random points from the book, among many:
- The idea is to go from “doggy mind” to a “lion mind,” in which there is deep steadiness.
- People often take up meditation because they want to achieve or gain something; the paradox in the practice is that the best way to get “there” to be fully present “here.”
- The first law of Buddhism is that everything is constantly changing.
- Buddhism isn’t about beliefs. It’s about firsthand knowledge.
Thanks to Amy and Brad Feld for letting me “steal” this book from them.
The always-interesting Robert Wright interviews Shinzen Young on Bloggingheads.tv about meditation. It’s worth watching for insights from one of the more prominent American experts on meditation. Shinzen says that when he thinks about meditation, he doesn’t call to mind the common image of someone sitting quietly in a darkened room. Rather, he thinks of someone in a gym, doing cardio, pumping weights, and making a lasting effect of the physical structure of his body. Certain formal exercises increase flexibility; others increase endurance; others build muscle strength.