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Focused and Fearless: A Meditator's Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity Paperback – April 28, 2008
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"Focused and Fearless is a wonderful book. Shaila Catherine describes the paths of deep concentration and transforming insight in a way that both inspires and enriches our practice. Her prose and her understanding are exceptionally lucid. This book is a treat to read." (Joseph Goldstein, author of A Heart Full of Peace and One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism)
"Focused and Fearless is a beautifully written introduction to jhana meditation that demonstrates the importance and necessity of deep concentration." (Venerable Pa-Auk Tawya Sayadaw)
"This is the best book on these practices I have seen. It's five-star." (Christopher Titmuss, author of Mindfulness for Everyday Living)
"The exercises are fun, plus they really work. I love this book." (Kate Wheeler, editor of In This Very Life: Liberation Teachings of the Buddha)
"The language here is so alluring thorough that readers will, I am certain, be inspired to redouble their zeal for practice." (Sylvia Boorstein, author of It's Easier Than You Think)
"Shaila Catherine represents a new generation of Dharma practitioner in the West." (Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness)
"Developing a stable and undistracted mind is essential to most forms of meditation. This book will be of interest to anyone, regardless of their style of practice, wishing to incorporate the deeper stages of concentration of jhana into their meditation." (Inquiring Mind)
"Among the many how-to books about Buddhist meditation, this book stands out for its deep commitment to the frames of reference developed in the Pali Canon, specifically the role of concentration (both 'momentary concentration' in the insight path and the jhana path), and its relationship to insight. With these frames, Catherine is able to create exercises and steps that develop calm meditative states and lead to liberating insight. This book is both a pragmatic manual and a deeply traditional understanding of Buddhist meditation practice. It suggests itself as a helpful guide both to beginning and advanced students." (Mu Soeng, Resident Scholar at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, and author of The Heart of the Universe)
"This is a 'user-friendly' concentration book. Through practical exercises and clear examples, Shaila makes the ancient wisdom of the jhanas accessible to all." (Amy Schmidt, dharma teacher and author of Dipa Ma: The Life and Teaching of a Buddhist Master)
"Rigorously investigated and lucidly explained, Shaila Catherine penetrates the mysterious world of jhana practice. Her book's strength lies in that she knows the territory intimately and teaches from her own experience. The author has deeply devoted her life to awakening through meditation, and her confidence and wisdom ring true throughout the whole book. This inspirational and fascinating manual will help many of the rest of us down this path." (Diana Winston, author of Wide Awake, A Buddhist Guide for Teens, teacher at Spirit Rock Meditation Center and Director of Mindful Awareness Research Center, UCLA.)
About the Author
Shaila Catherine has been practicing meditation since 1980, with more than eight years of accumulated silent retreat experience. She has taught insight meditation since 1996 in the U.S. and internationally. Shaila has dedicated several years to studying with masters in India, Nepal and Thailand, completed a one-year intensive meditation retreat with the focus on concentration and jhana, and authored Focused and Fearless: A Meditator's Guide to States of Deep Joy, Calm, and Clarity. Shaila Catherine has practiced under the guidance of Venerable Pa-Auk Sayadaw since 2006; she authored Wisdom Wide and Deep: A Practical Handbook for Mastering Jhana and Vipassana to help make this traditional approach to meditative training accessible to Western practitioners. She is the founder of Insight Meditation South Bay, a Buddhist meditation center in Silicon Valley. Lectures, articles, and additional resources can be found atwww.imsb.org.
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When I would get up the nerve to mention these states of sometimes overwhelming delight, deep happiness, and abiding peace, meditation teachers would consistently caution me not to get attached to these experiences, as if there was something bad or maybe dangerous about having them. But I didn't know any teachers who seemed to really understand and be comfortable with these states. Similarly, when I talked about this with fellow meditators, many seemed to have had similar experiences, but still no one really seemed to know what they meant or how to work with them.
I now liken those early explorations in meditation to strolling around on a beautiful mountainside with interesting and charming springs, flora, and fauna, but without having a map or knowing anything about the natural history of the area. Metaphorically, the discovery of "Focused and Fearless" was for me, after 40 years of searching, a map and a natural history, giving me a vocabulary and descriptions of territory I had already come to love and appreciate in my own feeble way. Shaila Catherine's book taught me to understand the ecosystem, and showed ways I could protect, support, and nurture this inner world. I also learned how these states could be useful in helping me to (at least temporarily) loosen the grip of greed, hatred, and delusion in my life, and to recognize the transient nature of all things, including who I am.
I whole-heartedly recommend "Focused and Fearless" to anyone who is drawn to deepening their meditation practice. This book, coupled with Richard Shankman's "The Experience of Samadhi" (and especially the interview with Jack Kornfield), was thoroughly transformative for me.
The author takes you through the levels of Jhana which are the levels you go through when closer to enlightenment. For me it was like a travel log to the amazing places you can go in the deeper levels of meditation. Because the author’s descriptions are so detailed and thorough I imagined myself in those places. I felt that I tasted some of these states as the author guided me through with incredible detail as only from someone who has been there and probably resides in these wonderful states.
I am also studying Wisdom Publication’s now excellent translations of the Pali Canon where the Jhānas are mentioned if not in every Sutta, then in every other one. They are, to put it mildly, firmly part of the Theravada Path.
That said, I have read just about everything I can lay my hands on concerning the Jhānas and right concentration. At this juncture, I am re-reading these many books, and I just completed a very thorough second pass of Catherine’s “Focused and Fearless.”
I put this book down with the half-serious question: Does it really take the tender sensibilities of a woman to accurately and clearly approach and expound upon the niceties of deep-concentration meditation? I know this not to be the case, but I do forgive myself for asking.
As Catherine states clearly in the front matter of the book, it is born out of personal experience; and this, to me, is crucial. I have read far too much of what strikes me as second-hand pedagogy, based not on personal experience but on other books, which may or may not have been based on personal experience.
As a result, Catherine speaks to you confidently and wisely about the journey you are undertaking, about the pitfalls and signposts, about the false and true—she is brimmingly authentic; she’s certainly been there and done that.
While it does guide you through the steps of practice, I find “Focused and Fearless” not so much an how-to book as a genuine spiritual map of the territory; and as such, I cannot recommend it highly enough.