As I pore over my dwindling box of Roses chocolates (surely dwindled further since last I sampled it), trying to choose between milk and dark and savouring that sense of expectation even before I put this delicious thing in my mouth, for just that moment, nothing could be better than chocolate! Cherry Heaven, Chocolate Bliss, Orange Delight - where do I start?
So when a book titled Why Mindfulness is Better than Chocolate comes along, the author is making a very bold claim indeed and needs to be on firm ground. Well, the author is David Michie who has penned previous bestsellers including Hurry Up and Meditate, Buddhism for Busy People and Enlightenment to Go and I suspect he is on very solid ground indeed with his latest offering. He shares a Harvard research study of 2000 people using smart phone technology, the way of the future, which showed that people weren’t thinking what they were doing 47% of the time and that they were unhappier when their minds were wandering. The researchers deduced that “a human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.” So, as Buddhists have long known, stilling the monkey mind chatter is essential to happiness. Sadly, as there’s no guarantee even a gooey caramel burst can totally focus our thoughts, Michie argues, mindfulness wins!
In a book full of sound Buddhist-inspired wisdom and practical, eminently achievable techniques so that we really have no excuse for not making steady progress, Michie’s droll self deprecating humour is a constant companion. And I suspect a key ingredient in his proven ability to reach the bestseller lists. He also has the common touch and shares many of his own experiences, not as he says, “because I’m the repository of especially arcane insights” but because he hopes the reader can relate more easily. And we do.
While Michie welcomes the movement of mindfulness into the mainstream, he’s no fan of “Mindfulness Lite” which markets itself as stress relief and completely overlooks its power to truly transform - “the authentic reason Buddhist monks meditate”. While his common touch and immersion in the real world make him an excellent communicator, Michie is at heart a serious Buddhist whose life and work have been informed by Tibetan Buddhism and who seeks to share its all-embracing wisdom.
He recognises that meditation and mindfulness are regularly confused and draws the distinction for us: meditation is the “training ground” for mindfulness and regular meditation enhances our ability to be mindful. So that cutting up the vegetables or folding away the washing become ends unto themselves and a time to cultivate precious mind stillness.
A whole chapter is devoted to ways we can apply mindfulness in our daily life so that we reach the enviable state of not becoming irritated by things that used to drive us to distraction - the irrational red light, the tyrannical call centre calls, the evening crush hour on public transport.
Michie guides us towards a calmer and ultimately happier life where we intersperse regular “cushion” meditation with the sort we can do on the spot “when we’re forced to put life on hold”. Just taking a few deep breaths is a start, or we can really relish something enjoyable like a coffee in a coffee shop without checking our texts, or even transform those “chores” so they become a source of contentment by seeing them through fresh eyes. I enjoyed his mobile phone idea, transforming one of the most intrusive of modern devices into a tool for mindfulness! Set an alert tone (preferably an ear-pleasing one) to go off randomly during the day as your mindfulness alert. Whatever you’re doing, suggests Michie, do it more mindfully!
Why Mindfulness is Better Than Chocolate is destined to be another bestseller. In David Michie’s sure hands, it is full of great advice relevant to most people’s lives with a constant undercurrent of humour. And recognising that these days we mostly like things in bite-sized chunks, chocolate or otherwise, the chapters are set out in easy-to-read sections so that we can pick it up at any time. I found much to put into practice in my own life and a good chuckle as well.
Margaret Evans has a background in teaching, journalism and publishing. She is the editor of NOVA Holistic Journal.