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Unlearning Meditation: What to Do When the Instructions Get In the Way Paperback – July 6, 2010

4.4 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“A creative and illuminating approach to meditation practice.”—Joseph Goldstein, author of Insight Meditation

“A radically illuminating book for practitioners to newly understand their meditation through loving interest in what is actually going on, beyond any instruction or ideal.”—Jack Kornfield, author of The Wise Heart

“A wise, practical, and radical book that sheds new and wondrous light on dharma in the West.”—Joan Halifax Roshi, author of Being with Dying

“Jason Siff is one of the most distinctive and engaging voices of the emerging Buddhist culture in the West.”—Stephen Batchelor, author of Confession of a Buddhist Atheist

“Siff frees meditators from their own expectations, and ultimately, any guilt about not following the rules.  With a gentle style that’s encouraging, wise, and even playful at times, Siff provides a very useful guide for those who want to meditate, but need to ‘unlearn’ in order to move forward.  He blends his Eastern and Western experience to give the work spiritual rigor and grounding, while still appealing to a broad audience.  Readers don’t need to be Buddhist, or even familiar with its philosophical concepts, to benefit from Siff’s clearly articulated, thoughtful advice.”—ForeWord Reviews

About the Author

Jason Siff is the head teacher of the Skillful Meditation Project. He teaches meditation and leads retreats throughout the United States and in Australia.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Shambhala; 1 edition (July 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590307526
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590307526
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.6 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #520,775 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By John L Murphy TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on July 18, 2010
Format: Paperback
If "nothing arises in isolation" for Buddhists, why not let thoughts, images, and moods filter and float into one's meditative mind? Rather than resisting stories as tied to the ego, a receptive process allows practitioners to integrate narratives and reactions into their sitting. This increases gentleness, and eases pain, as tolerating one's experiences replaces suppressing or overcoming their influence. "Drifting off" can even help us "wake up."

This, Siff proposes, means "unlearning" meditation practices that stress silencing the voices and emotions within us. For a meditator facing inevitable impasses, he shows how "transformative conceptualization" can draw us patiently to examine "mental constructs" as a way towards non-conceptual understanding. This challenges the norm that such a non-conceptual realization comes only when the seeker has attained the goal of a purer sense-experience. This can be a tricky "concept" to comprehend, admittedly.

Siff takes his time in a couple-hundred pages to relate his own evolution from Tibetan and especially Vipassana training into a more fluid, open-ended direction. While grounded in the Theravada traditions, and using a lot of the samatha (calming)-vipassana (discerning) as the foundation for his path, he advises the meditator not to become attached to any one form, if that form becomes too "grounded" so as to discourage the seeker, or ossify the spirit. To me, this seems like a commonsense, slightly but subtly radical, existential attitude I like. He returns, softly, to the Pali texts, as does Batchelor, to revive the force of the earlier Buddha's impact, one concentrating upon ethical action and not dogmatic codification.
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Format: Paperback
When I began reading Unlearning Meditation: What to Do When the Instructions Get In the Way I was expecting something more radical. After all, I was supposed to be unlearning, which I took to mean throwing away what I had learned. What I got were re-interpretations, alternative perspectives, and suggestions for bending the "rules" instead of fixating on them.

WHO IS IT FOR?
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Although beginners will surely find a great deal of value and interest in here, it is geared more towards those who have tried meditation techniques and, for one reason or another, found them difficult to continue, or unrewarding. I suppose that pretty much includes everyone who has ever tried meditating :) The writing is generally pretty clear, though there are sections that will be a little easier to grasp quickly if you have read other books on meditation, such as Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (Shambhala Library) (one of my favorites). My feeling is that in some places the author was writing with books like this in mind.

WHAT'S THE MESSAGE?
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Don't be a slave to the system. It's OK if you don't get much out of following your breath (or whatever practice you are having trouble with). You are not failing at it. He stresses that the meditation practices are there for you, and if they don't suit you, don't keep trying harder and harder to follow the "rules" and get it "right." Try another approach. What I took away from this book is the message that I should trust myself to adapt the practices to suit me.
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I've read a great many books on meditation. I'd rate Unlearning Meditation #1 in terms of its helpfulness to me as well as the potential I think it offers others. It describes an approach to meditation that acknowledges the subtle pitfalls that people are likely to encounter in mainstream approaches to the teaching of meditation, pitfalls that are typically neither acknowledged nor addressed. The unfortunate consequence of this lack attention to those traps is that many people come away discouraged from their attempts to meditate, feeling that they are no good at it. Others unknowingly lock themselves into patterns of meditation that "follow the rules" without finding out what works best for them. The approach described in this book helped me find my own way of meditating, one that continues to grow and evolve. I believe that the most useful review of the book I could offer is to briefly describe how that came about.

Disclaimer: for the past 5 years I've been a student of Jason's. He's not the only teacher from whom I learn, but he has become the principal one since I discovered his "Unlearning Meditation" workshop at the Barre Center for Buddhist Studies 5 years ago (4 years before the book came out). At that time I had run up against a wall, feeling that I was "failing" at meditation because of my inability--after 35 years of trying in one way or another--to attain sustained periods of thought-free concentration. I had internalized this goal from instructions in various forms of meditation--from Transcendental Meditation to several schools of Buddhism--that pointed to getting "lost in thought" as a sign that one's attention had wandered, and should be brought back to, say, a mantra, or the breath.
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