Book Review: 'Mindfulness and The Big Questions'
We are always asking questions; they are a part of what makes us human. To not ask questions is to give in to the status quo, it is to accept things asthey are and to live one’s life as a spectator rather than as an active participant. It is the difference between watching football and playing it, between baking a cake and buying it. With this in mind, are there any questions more important then the ones which question life itself? These are the biggest of big questions.
In his upcoming book ‘Mindfulness and the Big Questions’ Ben Irvine seeks to answer these Big Questions. As he points out, Big Questions ‘are a natural response to being alive’. In one form, or another, we have all questioned the nature of our existence. Such heavy questions appear to need equally weighty answers. Failure to find answers which pack the appropriate punch almost inevitably lead to a feeling of existential anxiety. This need not be the case, as Irvine seeks to use mindfulness to find small answers to these big and sometimes overwhelming, questions. The answers are hiding in plain sight.
Why am I here? Am I free? What makes a life good? These, among others, are the questions that are tackled. In each case, Irvine suggests that mindfulness can relieve you the existential anxiety that inevitably accompanies such questions. The philosophical answers provided may not be satisfactory to the hardcore student of philosophy. Indeed, to cover that many questions in academic detail would require a library as opposed to a book. However, for the casual philosopher, the book will prove to be thought provoking, illuminating and will offer some genuine answers. Genuine answers which, more often than not, academic philosophy does not always provide.
It is easy to be critical of mindfulness, and disregard it as simply more armchair philosophy. In some aspects you may be correct. This is not the kind of mindfulness that is being suggested, though. Your attention should be centred on yourself, and not solely the questions.
The book is set against the backdrop of arming oneself against the existential anxiety that sets in upon the contemplation of these questions. A big proponent of mindfulness myself, it seems to me that Irvine is right to identify it as the tool that oneneeds towield in the face of such overwhelming thoughts and feelings. As he says “mindfulness can help, by inspiring us to be calm in the face of reality and curious in the face of uncertainty”. The importanceof focusing on oneself - your breathing, the motion ofyour body helps you ground yourself when everything else is flying away.
The book is littered with personal and relatable anecdotes about the authors own relationship with philosophy and existential dread. Do not fret however. These are not melancholy stories, designed to plunge one further into the hole of anxiety. Rather, they serve to illustrate the points being made, to show how the mindfulness being offered does work.
‘Mindfulness and the Big Questions’ asks us to focus on ourselves. Identifying the space that we fill within the universe, rather than becoming overawed by it. While it may not be for those people that prefer complex detailed answers, often associated with analytical philosophy, it undoubtedly offers something unique and valuable in the coupling of philosophy and mindfulness.
Ben Irvine's 'Mindfulness and the Big Questions: Philosophy for Now', published by Leaping Hare Press this month, RRP £12.99. Available from all good bookshops and online.
Review written by Harry Lee
Posted by TPF Admin on 29th September 2017 at 12:00am