A Guardian science editor and self-proclaimed skeptic analyzes “the ancient science of enlightenment.”
Some 2,500 years ago, Siddhartha Gautama abandoned his princely life to follow an ascetic path in search of spiritual truths. Kingsland explores the history and science of mindfulness with the story of Siddhartha, the Buddha, as a backdrop. Tracing Western scientific research on the subject of meditation from the 1960s to the present day, the author details studies demonstrating the efficacy of mindfulness in battling chronic pain, mental illness, addiction, and even aging while emphasizing that the benefits of mindfulness have been enjoyed for centuries without the help of modern science. Positing that the first humans to learn to quiet their minds at will may have been hunter-gatherers staring into the flames of their fires at night, Kingsland draws attention to the ubiquity of meditative practices with examples from the world’s major religions, noting Buddhism as being exceptional for having removed supernatural beings from the equation. Juxtaposing science with Buddhist lore, he conjures Siddhartha meditating in a lush grove beneath a fig tree, imagines his followers, ascetics who renounced all worldly things, and depicts the enlightened Siddhartha addressing a crowd of angry fire worshipers and calming a rampaging elephant. Kingsland draws his readers’ attention to mindfulness success stories: Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction work with sufferers of chronic pain, Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy for the treatment of mental illness, and the proven use of meditation to treat drug addiction. The author also points to the proven ability of meditation to increase activity in parts of the brain responsible for regulating emotion as evidence that anyone can benefit from this cultivation of awareness to observe and quell the flames of negative emotions.
Brain science and Buddhist lore combine in this compelling treatise on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness.