“One Minute Mindfulness,” by Donald Altman


A few years ago I came across and reviewed a book called Eight Minute Meditations. Then I saw a book called The Five Minute Meditator. Then The Three Minute Meditator. Now we have One-Minute Mindfulness.

This isn’t at all a bad thing. The perception that meditation is only useful in large doses does tend to put some people off of establishing a practice, and much can be accomplished in a short space of time. Mindfulness is an activity that takes place moment by moment, as we observe our experience unfolding. Each moment brings an opportunity to choose between reactivity and creativity, negativity and positivity, habit or freedom. Mindfulness actually takes place at a timescale far below that of a minute.

Title: One Minute Mindfulness
Author: Donald Altman
Publisher: New World Library
ISBN: 978-1-60868-030-6
Available from: Amazon.co.uk Kindle Store, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com Kindle Store, and Amazon.com.

And that, really, is the message of Donald Altman’s One-Minute Mindfulness. Altman is not saying that all you need is one minute of mindfulness in a day, and then you’ll be set. He’s saying that one minute’s mindfulness can have a profound effect. And our days, after all — our entire lives, even — are made up of many, many minutes, each of which can be an opportunity to bring awareness and compassion into play. Altman invites us to live consciously, minute by minute.

One-Minute Mindfulness offers 50 short reflections, often accompanied with a case history or reference to a sceintific study. Each reflection suggests a specific way that mindfulness can be brought into our lives.

The exercises are grouped into five sections, covering home, work, relationships, health, and finally the broad category of “nature, spirituality, and contemplation.”

Sometimes the suggestions for how to use a minute mindfully focus on practical and experiential exercises, such as breathing with the diaphragm, or walking mindfully. Other times we’re asked to reflect, and to make a list — for example things we are grateful for, or qualities that are important in friendship.

Altman is a practicing psychotherapist and he brings a wealth of experience to his instructions and reflections, which are clear and well-written. I’d imagine that the exercises would be beneficial mainly to beginners to meditative practice, who are wondering how to integrate mindfulness into their daily lives.

The “One Minute Mindfulness” idea is a good one, although I soon wearied of hearing the phrase repeated over and over, and it was a relief to reach a run of chapters about four fifths of the way into the book where the phrase was dropped for a while. It’s a good phrase, and the concept behind it is a valuable one, but it came to feel like the author was trying to sell me a product I’d already bought.

Of course, the author recognizes that one minute is not always enough for practice. Reminding ourselves to be mindful at various points during the day will take us so far, but deeper reflection takes longer, and to attain any depth of stillness or lovingkindness in our lives we need to spend much more than a minute in meditation. And so, inevitably, the “one minute” message becomes one of taking a minute to get started. For example, in the section on volunteering as a way to “be the change we want to see in the world,” we don’t volunteer in a soup kitchen for sixty seconds, but use the minute to call to mind role-models, or to think about volunteering opportunities. Even here, though, you might not get very far in just sixty seconds. But the important thing, often, is just to get started. One minute leads to another … and another.

As it happens, I’ve recently read a couple of similar books. How To Train a Wild Elephant, by Jan Chozen Bays contains (if I remember correctly) 52 mindfulness exercises, drawn from exercises practices at Bays’ monastery, developed over twenty years. That particular book is the finest guide to mindfulness in daily life I’ve come across. The exercises are intended to be used for a week at a time, not just for sixty seconds, and the reflections that accompany them come from a place of deep insight. Beginners wanting to get started may prefer One-Minute Mindfulness, while for more seasoned practiioners looking to deepen an existing practice I’d recommend How To Train a Wild Elephant.

The other similar book I recently read is Ashley Davis Bush’s Shortcuts to Inner Peace: 70 Simple Paths to Everyday Serenity, which I hope to review shortly. Some of the exercises, even, are similar, as you might expect, since both Shortcuts and One Minute Mindfulness deal with mindfulness in daily life and its recurring events, challenges, and opportunities. Both Bush and Altman are psychotherapists who use meditation and mindfulness in their practice. Both use similar categories for organizing their exercises. Both books contain exercises that are intended to be accomplished quickly, while also engaged in an everyday task. In both books, the chapters are two to three pages long. Which book is preferable is of course a matter of taste and style. I found Bush’s approach to be more imaginative, and in fact I told the author that I thought she was “cunnning” in her ability to find ways to sneak mindfulness into everyday life.

And this is the real problem with One Minute Mindfulness. It’s a fine book, but there are so many others. Just knowing about those two titles I happen to have read makes it harder to enthusiasticaly recommend Altman’s book. How to choose? And as I mentioned in the introduction to this review, there’s a proliferation of books on “x-minute” mindfulness/meditation. This year also saw the publication of 5-Minute Mindfulness: Simple Daily Shortcuts to Transform Your Life, and Goldie Hawn’s 10 Mindful Minutes. Altman, in fact, was beaten to the punch on his own title: another book called One Minute Mindfulness, by Simon Parke, was published earlier this year, although it’s only available in the UK.

Perhaps my next book should be 30 Second Mindfulness, or even The Nanosecond Meditator? That’s pretty much what you’d have to do to stand out from the pack.

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