Posts by Kamalamani

“Fearless at Work” by Michael Carroll

fearless at workI jumped at the chance of reviewing ‘Fearless at Work’. A close workmate in my business died very suddenly before Christmas. She went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up. I miss her. My workload has temporarily doubled and I’m practising the art of muddling through, with a brain befuddled by shock and grief. So I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of ‘Fearless at Work’ in engaging with this particular phase of life.

The stated aim of this book is to draw on Buddhist philosophy and the practice of mindfulness in helping readers to become more confident and open to possibility in their work lives. Michael Carroll is the founding director of an organisation called ‘Aware at Work’, has held a number of executive positions and is a long-time student of Buddhism. In his words in the introduction, this book is about ‘sitting down and being still’ (original italics) and he refers frequently to ‘mindfulness-awareness practice’.

Title: Fearless at Work
Author: Michael Carroll
Publisher: Shambhala
ISBN: 9781590309148
Available from: Shambhala,, and

‘Fearless at Work’ is divided into five parts, with each themed part exploring various ‘slogans’ to reflect upon, memorize, apply the slogan at work each day and so on. Some of my favorites slogans, to give you a flavor, were: ‘Face the fierce facts of life’, ‘Lean in’, ‘Be vividly present’, ‘Where’s the edge?’ and ‘Be a spiritual fool’. Carroll points out how his development and use of slogans is inspired by the tradition ‘lojong’ or mind-training practices originating from Tibet in approximately the 12th century. In detailed appendices Carroll outlines what he calls his: ‘traditions of fearlessness’, including Kagyu-Nyingma meditative disciplines and Shambhala warrior practice.

Carroll’s writing style is passionate, conversational and sometimes entertaining. I really appreciated his overall message about living fearlessly:

“Distracting ourselves from a life we are afraid to live comes in many forms, some simple, some potent, some pathetic, others complex” (page 161);

“The slogan: “Where’s the edge?” reminds us that living in harmony is not about being free from conflict but about being free to live life fully” (page 44).

Having read this book, I’m left in little doubt that Carroll is a dedicated Buddhist student and most likely a very helpful and inspiring guide to many folk going through organizational change. He is clearly very passionate about his work and how he applies what he has learned from studying and practicing the Dharma: the teachings of the Buddha, as well as a number of other spiritual practices.

Yet I find I’m disappointed. Carroll indicates early on (page 7) that the book is based on a “simple, practical gesture: sitting down and being still”. Unfortunately very little of the content and method of this book reflects this intention. Carroll refers to ‘mindfulness-awareness’ practice throughout but omits to define what he means by this in the body of book, instead only including references to ‘traditions of fearlessness’ in the appendices. The reader is given no indication in the main body of the book what Carroll personally means by and practices in relationship to ‘mindfulness-awareness’ practice.

Carroll’s pace, tone and the sheer density of the book’s content doesn’t, in my mind, conduce to the contemplative practice which he invites in the book’s introduction. Many of his 38 slogans, explored throughout the five parts of the book, are more akin to sound-bites of his own thoughts, anecdotes and examples, rather than an invitation to the reader to reflect upon their lived experience or draw very deeply on practical workplace examples.

It’s not immediately clear to me why the book is entitled ‘Fearless at Work’. Much of this content applies to life in general, rather than just life at work. The examples and anecdotes which do refer to work seem to be largely based upon work in the corporate world, so I imagine Carroll is writing with this readership in mind. I have to admit that by two-thirds of the way through the book I started to lose interest. Not because Carroll doesn’t have interesting and important things to say, but because of the slogan structure and content. The clarity with which he explains each slogan is variable and pithy to the point of sometimes not quite saying enough for me to fully understand his point. In the end the book felt more like a slogan ‘shopping list’ than an invitation to reflect on work, life and practice. In this sense, it didn’t much resemble what I know of the flavour of traditional ‘lojong’ practice, even though that was his original inspiration.

Learning each of the slogans didn’t encourage me to want to sit down and reflect on them, although I did give that a go. I didn’t find them especially potent and inspiring, as advertised on the back cover. He includes Dharmic ideas but often these are not sufficiently ‘unpacked’ to throw light on each of his slogans. On occasions I found his slogans interesting, poignant and entertaining, but not particularly conducive to contemplating fearlessness. I had one or two ‘aha’ moments, so all was not lost, but this isn’t a book I would hurry to recommend. I found one of his others — ‘The Mindful Leader: Ten Principles for Bringing Out the Best in Ourselves and Others’ — much more helpful and better-written.

In his introduction, Carroll emphasises that sitting down and being still sounds easy but is ‘exquisitely demanding’. To my mind he misses an opportunity in this book. Had he expanded some of the content of Part II ‘Taming the mind’ and a few of the other chapters from Parts III and IV — which are aimed more directly at helping readers to create the conditions for both effective meditation practice and life at work — the book would have unfolded more closely in line with his stated aim. Had there been a little less breadth and more depth with more emphasis upon meditation practice, the book would certainly have helped me with the exquisitely demanding work of being still amidst work pressures and feeling fear. As it stands, for my personal taste at least, this book has a few design faults and doesn’t touch in closely enough to the Dharma.

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“Eating Mindfully” by Susan Albers

eating mindfullyThis book landed on my doormat from Bodhipaksa at an extremely opportune moment: the holiday period between Christmas and the New Year. The clean fresh cover was enticing enough to encourage me to start reading straight away. I’m sure if I hadn’t started reading “Eating Mindfully” there and then a fair few more chocolate truffles would have found their way mindlessly into my tummy. With this book in hand when I did eat the odd chocolate truffle I found myself savouring its taste and texture. So nice timing — thanks Bodhipaksa and Susan Albers!

Susan Albers is a US-based psychologist specialising in mindful eating. This book explores ways to “end emotional eating and savor every bite” in cultivating mindful eating. It encourages us to put an end to mindless eating and to enjoy a balanced relationship with food. It is clearly and simply structured around the Buddha’s traditional formulation of the ‘four foundations of mindfulness’. Albers outlines these in non-traditional order as the mindfulness of the mind, body, feelings and thoughts. In the fifth and final section she explores mindful eating motivations. The book is easy to navigate and structured in ‘bite sized’ subsections. It ends with a comprehensive listing of useful organisations and websites.

Title: Eating Mindfully:How to End Mindless Eating and Enjoy a Balanced Relationship with Food
Author: Susan Albers
Publisher: New Harbinger Publications
ISBN: 978-1608823307
Available from:, and

This is a beautifully produced little book, hence my interest in reading it as soon as it had arrived. It has a clean, simple, attractive cover and immediately put me in mind of Susie Orbach’s “On Eating” — another book well worth reading on this theme. The book was a pleasure to read and to hold. Now I don’t normally make such a big deal about book covers — particularly bearing in mind the old adage that you can’t tell a book by its cover — but in the area of eating I think it’s very important that books are produced in a way which is both inviting, beautiful and practical, encouraging the reader to open and make use of the book again and again.

In my experience, and from my professional experience as a therapist working with people who have difficult associations with eating, the area of eating and nourishment can be highly charged. Very often food and diet books seem to fuel that charge with catchy titles, loud covers and/or promising subheadings. The simple, attractive cover reflects the contents of this book — you can tell this book from its cover. It is refreshing in offering a grounded approach to eating based upon wisdom which has spanned more than two millennia, avoiding the sometimes gimmicky feeling of the self-help book.

Albers’ tone is warm, clear, direct, and intelligent. She invites readers to learn the art of mindful eating. She points out how ‘mindful eating is radically different’ and how the book’s emphasis is about being healthy rather than being thin or losing weight — a refreshing departure from many books about food and diet. She points out how diets tend to cut us off from our experience, whereas mindful eating tunes us inwards in using our intuitive wisdom in re-learning a healthy relationship with food.

I celebrate this emphasis upon turning inwards and listening to and learning from our embodied experience in understanding our relationship with food and eating. The book goes on to explore this turning inwards in order to understanding how and why we eat what we do, based upon the four foundations of mindfulness. As a practising Buddhist, it’s great to see the four foundations applied to the everyday activity of eating.

What most struck me in reading this book is that Albers really ‘gets’ mindfulness, recounting the first time she encountered it in Japan. She gives the impression of living mindfully herself and of wishing to share that experience, rather than applying mindfulness purely as a technique. She makes the point that it can sound very easy to just “be more aware” of what you eat, when, in fact, mindfulness is complex and sophisticated.

I particularly valued this aspect of “Eating Mindfully”: the recognition that mindfulness is a lifelong practice which can be applied to any and every activity in parallel with her very helpful suggestions, examples, anecdotes and “skill builder” exercises. I found her tone enabling and helpful rather than using the blaming and shaming language which is often found in books on eating; sending readers deeper into a counter-productive cycle of shame and mindless eating.

I also respected Albers’ suggestion early on and throughout this book to find support in learning to eat mindfully — from a friend, co-worker or therapist.

I have to admit that if anything, there is just too much content in this book and it would be quite a long-haul to work though every chapter un-aided. But approached with patience, care and mutual support, this book has the potential for lasting transformation.

I have some minor criticisms of “Eating Mindfully”. I appreciate in her Foreword that Lilian Cheung acknowledges that many of us in post-industrial societies are living in a toxic food environment and a toxic media environment. Personally I would have liked to have seen Albers take that theme a little further in including in the Introduction or early in the book the societal, systemic dimension of mindless eating and, in fact, mindlessness in many things which characterise the status quo.

Of course we individually choose what we put in our mouths hour by hour, day by day, but this choosing and individual responsibility is shaped by the complex conditions in which we have been born and raised. Cheung is absolutely spot on in identifying our toxic media and food environments, so I would have appreciated from Albers a greater acknowledgment of the counterbalance between individual responsibility and healthy communities in understanding our relationship with food, living as we do with the hungry gravitational pull of our consumerist society.

Another criticism is the problem I encounter frequently. In presenting Buddhist teachings in a secular (“self-help”) context, the whole notion of Buddhism being a tool for enlightenment gets lost or at least severely obscured. The Dharma — the teachings of the Buddha — simply becomes a tool to help one become a bit happier, more contented, and in this case, healthier in eating more mindfully.

Personally, I would have appreciated Albers making clear the far-reaching nature of contemplating the four foundations. It’s also unclear as to why she decided to present the four foundations in a non-traditional order. This points to my periodic un-ease with the wave of popularity around mindfulness. Of course it’s great that mindfulness practice helps to ease depression, anxiety, pain and mindless eating. It’s also important that mindfulness is practised in its wholeness and that its context is not overlooked, with the danger of mindfulness becoming diluted or divorced from its origins, running the risk of taking the shape of another quick fix technique.

However, Albers is writing a book about mindful eating for popular appeal, not a book on Buddhist teachings, so I wouldn’t want this criticism to put off those who are interested in mindful eating. The great attraction of this book is that I have not doubt it will help many people eat more mindfully. I wouldn’t be surprised, given the skill and care with which Albers presents this material, if readers might become interested in other aspects of Buddhism which help us to live life fully and creatively.

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