This is a preview of the Shortform book summary of
Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Gunaratana.
Read Full Summary

1-Page Summary 1-Page Book Summary of Mindfulness in Plain English

Why Meditate?

Many of us find life continuously unsatisfying. We can distract the nagging feeling for a time, but it inevitably comes back. We must have more. Things must be better. We get stuck in “if only” wishful thinking mode - “if only I had X, all my problems will be solved.”

There is no satisfying this impulse. You will never have enough. You equilibrate so quickly to your environment that nothing is ever satisfying enough. The only winning move is not to play.

Is there another way to live? You can control your mind to step outside the endless cycle of desire and aversion. You can learn not to stop wanting what you currently crave, to recognize desires but not be controlled by them.

Meditation is the path to this level of understanding and mental peace. It purifies the mind of “psychic irritants,” bringing you to a new state of tranquility and awareness. It makes you deeply aware of your own thoughts and actions.

What Meditation Is

Meditation involves concentration, like prayer and yogic meditation. But concentration is a means to an end - the ultimate goal is awareness, or mindfulness.

Awareness is the ability to listen to our own thoughts without being caught up in them.

  • So much of your thought is automatic that you cannot be said to have real control of your thinking. Up pops a stimulus (an attractive person, the smell of food, annoying party music) - and immediately you react with a feeling.
  • The first step to avoid this is to realize what you are doing as you are doing it, to stand back and quietly watch. You learn to scrutinize your own perceptual process with precision. You decouple the perception of a stimulus with the arising of thought.
  • With meditation, you examine the very process of perception. You watch the feelings that arise and the changes that occur in your own consciousness.

For much of your life, you have given in to your impulses out of habit. When you’re mindful you see through the “hollow shouting of your own impulses” and pierce their secret. Your urges yell at you, coaxing, beckoning, threatening, but you realize they have no power at all.

The Mindset of Meditating

Meditation is very sensitive to the mental attitude you bring to the activity. Here’s the right attitude to have while meditating.

Don’t expect anything. Sit back and see what happens. See it as an experiment. Let the meditation move along at its own speed and in its own direction. Throw away your preconceptions of what it should feel like and what it should achieve.

Don’t strain or rush. Counter-intuitively, the more you force things, the further you’ll be from your goal.

Accept everything that arises. Don’t condemn yourself for having feelings you wish you didn’t have. Accept them. This is the first step to removing yourself of them.

Don’t ponder. Thinking won’t free you from the trap. Meditation purifies the mind naturally by mindfulness, without using thoughts or words. Don’t think. See.

How to Start Meditating

Determine how long you are going to meditate. Beginners can start at 10-20 minutes. But do not worry about attaining any particular goal within a particular time period - this will just be distracting and counterproductive.

Sit in a comfortable pose. Do not change the position again until the time you determined at the beginning. Shifting positions will avoid giving you a deep level of concentration.

  • Sit with your back straight. The spine should be erect, with the head in line with the spine. Be relaxed, not stiff. Have no muscular tension.
  • Your clothing should be loose and soft. Don’t wear clothing so tight it restricts blood flow or nerve sensation. Take your shoes off.
  • You can choose to sit on the floor on in a chair.

Sit motionlessly and close your eyes.

Your mind is like a cup of muddy water. Keep it still, and the mud will settle down and the water will be seen clearly.

The mind must focus on a mental object that is present at every moment. The book recommends starting with focusing on your breath.

Take 3 deep breaths. Then breathe normally and effortlessly, focusing your attention on the rims of your nostrils where the air is flowing through.

  • Simply notice the feeling of breath going in and out. You may notice mindfully that there is a brief pause between inhaling and exhaling - but don’t obsess over this.

Keep focusing your attention on your breath.

Do not verbalize or conceptualize anything. Simply notice the incoming and outgoing breath, and notice as the breath lengthens as you relax.

When your mind wanders and gets distracted, bring it back. The book suggests counting in a variety of ways, basically to distract your mind back to breathing:

  • Count 1 when inhaling, 2 when exhaling. Repeat to 10 then repeat.
  • Count 1 to 10 quickly when inhaling, and again when exhaling.
  • Once your mind is focused on the breath, give up counting.

When distracted, gently but firmly return to your focus. Do not get upset or judge yourself from straying. Do not force things out of your mind - this adds energy to the thoughts that will make them return stronger.

Over time, your breathing will become shallower and more subtle. This is an indicator of concentration.

  • You will develop a new more subtle “sign” - which appears differently to different people (a star, a long string, a cobweb, the moon, a flower). Over time, master this so that whenever you want the sign, it should be available.

The mind must keep up with what is happening at every moment, so do not try to stop the mind at any one moment. This is momentary concentration.

When you feel in a state of concentration, the mind can then move to other sounds, memories, or emotions, one at a time. As they fade away, let your mind return to the breath.

How to Continue Meditating

Establish a formal practice schedule. Set aside a certain time.

  • Meditating in the morning is a good start to the day. Wake up fully, then sit down to meditate. Don’t get hung up in the day’s activities.
  • Evening before sleep is another good time. It clears your mind of mental rubbish throughout the day.

Once a day is enough when you begin.

Start with 20-30 minutes for sitting. Over time, you can lengthen this, so that regular practitioners can sit for hours.

Wishing Kindness On Others

It is tradition to begin meditation with a few recitations. They have a practical purpose for psychological cleansing and aren’t meant to be dogmatic rituals. Here’s one that wishes well on yourself and others.

“May ___ be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to ___. May they always meet with spiritual success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life. May they always rise above them with morality, integrity, forgiveness, compassion, mindfulness, and wisdom.”

Repeat this recitation multiple times, replacing the blanks with these in order: I | my parents | my teachers | my relatives | my friends | all indifferent persons | all unfriendly persons | all living beings.

Benefits of this Recitation

Mindfulness is egoless awareness. If you start with ego in full control, it is difficult to get mindfulness started. If your mind is in fury, it’s hard to focus during meditation.

This recitation overcomes the ego. Balance the negative emotion by instilling a positive one. Giving confronts greed; benevolence confronts hatred.

First you banish thoughts of self-hatred and self-condemnation, letting good wishes flow...

Want to learn the rest of Mindfulness in Plain English in 21 minutes?

Unlock the full book summary of Mindfulness in Plain English by signing up for Shortform.

Shortform summaries help you learn 10x faster by:

  • Being 100% comprehensive: you learn the most important points in the book
  • Cutting out the fluff: you don't spend your time wondering what the author's point is.
  • Interactive exercises: apply the book's ideas to your own life with our educators' guidance.

READ FULL SUMMARY OF MINDFULNESS IN PLAIN ENGLISH

Here's a preview of the rest of Shortform's Mindfulness in Plain English summary:

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Shortform Introduction

If you haven’t ever tried meditating, parts of this summary will sound hokey, too ethereal and wishy-washy. “Loving friendliness? Nonconceptual awareness? Hogwash!” You can redefine these terms in your own words in a way that’s satisfying to you.

You might be resistant to trying meditation, thinking it’s too contrived or it’ll “make you lose your edge.” If you’re perfectly content with how you react to life, have great emotional control, and are strongly fulfilled, then you might not benefit much from mindfulness. But if not and you’re not sure how to improve it - why not try it out?

Meditation requires regular practice to achieve lasting benefits. You can’t meditate a few times and expect to achieve complete...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of Mindfulness in Plain English

Sign up for free

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapter 1: Meditation: Why Bother?

Many of us find life continuously unsatisfying. We can distract the nagging feeling for a time, but it inevitably comes back. We must have more. Things must be better. We get stuck in “if only” wishful thinking mode - “if only I had X, all my problems will be solved.”

There is no satisfying this impulse. You will never have enough. You equilibrate so quickly to your environment that nothing is ever satisfying enough. The only winning move is not to play.

Popular media invokes the emotions of jealousy, suffering, stress, and anger. People who are at peace with themselves do not feel these feelings.

The culprit of dissatisfaction lies in categorization of experiences as good, bad, and neutral.

  • For good experiences, we hope to freeze time at that moment and keep it from escaping. When that fails, we keep chasing this high. But even in these moments, we feel the tension that no matter what, this moment will end.
  • For bad experiences, we reject those experiences. We run from pieces of ourselves instead of confronting and acknowledging them.
  • For neutral experiences (which comprise the majority of life), we see it as drudgery and ignore it.

When we endlessly chase pleasure, flee from pain, and ignore most of our experience, is it any wonder life tastes flat?

Satisfaction through Mindfulness

Is there another way to live? You can control your mind to step outside the endless cycle of desire and aversion. You can learn not to stop wanting what you currently crave, to recognize desires but not be controlled by them.

Consider another frame of mind - we crave things, not for the goals themselves, but as a means to an end. We eat food so that we satiate hunger and satisfy the drive. We earn money so that we can relieve our problems and end tension.

To begin, you must see yourself as who you are without illusion or judgment. Then you see your place in society among other humans, and see the collection as a single unit.

Meditation is the path to this level of understanding and mental peace. It purifies the mind of “psychic irritants,” bringing you to a new state of tranquility and awareness. It makes you deeply aware of your own thoughts and actions.

  • It’s like cultivating new land. Clear the trees, pull out the stumps. Then till the soil, fertilize, and sow your seed.

Through meditation, you learn compassion and ethics from within, not without....

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes.
Learn more about our summaries →

Shortform Exercise: Examine Your Own Emotions

Think about where you feel unsatisfied.


Do you identify with the feeling that you find life continuously unsatisfying? What does that feel like? What do you feel you don’t have enough of?

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of Mindfulness in Plain English

Sign up for free

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapters 2-3: What Meditation Is and Isn’t

Mindfulness in Plain English deals specifically with vipassana meditation (or insight meditation), with roots in Theravada Buddhism.

What Meditation Isn’t

There are other forms of meditation, and misconceptions about meditation, that this book is not dealing with:

  • Meditation is not just relaxation or euphoria. You can achieve a deep and blissful relaxation (eg through samatha meditation), but this is only temporary. The goal of vipassana is further: awareness.
  • Meditation is not going into a trance. In a trance, you lose control of yourself and are susceptible to control by another party. In deep concentration, you maintain control of yourself.
  • Meditation doesn’t let you have psychic powers.
  • Meditation is not selfish. It clears the mind of selfish intent and opens the path to compassion for others. In contrast, there are plenty of bad deeds done in the name of good that are actually ego-driven (the Spanish Inquisition).

Furthermore, meditation is not mindless, automatic, and predictable. It should be an experiment every time. If you reach a feeling of predictability in your practice, you have stagnated and gone off track. Look at each second as though it were the first and only second in the universe.

What Meditation Is

Meditation involves concentration, like prayer and yogic meditation. But concentration is a means to an end - the ultimate goal is awareness, or mindfulness.

Awareness is the ability to listen to our own thoughts without being caught up in them.

  • So much of your thought is automatic that you cannot be said to have real control of your thinking. Up pops a stimulus (an attractive person, the smell of food, annoying party music) - and immediately you react with a feeling.
  • The first step to avoid this is to realize what you are doing as you are doing it, to stand back and quietly watch. You learn to scrutinize your own perceptual process with precision. You decouple the perception of a stimulus with the arising of thought.
  • With meditation, you examine the very process of perception. You watch the feelings that arise and the changes that occur in your own consciousness.

Awareness is attentive listening, mindful seeing. You look at what is right there in front of you, rather than getting caught up in an endless thought-stream that overrides reality.

Awareness is being completely honest with yourself. You watch your mind and body, notice things that are unpleasant to realize, then come to terms with it.

  • You learn not to reject things you dislike about yourself or your life - growing old, having your mistakes pointed out, your bad habits.
  • You find the roots of emotions like greed, hatred, and anger. You extinguish them.
    • If you do not have the root of hatred, no one can make you angry by pointing out your faults. Instead, you are thankful to that person for pointing out a deficiency that you can improve about yourself.

When you’re mindful you see through the “hollow shouting of your own impulses” and pierce their secret. Your urges yell at you, coaxing, beckoning, threatening, but you realize they have no power at all.

For much of your life, you have given in to your impulses out of habit. You don’t realize that they’re merely empty threats. But once you look beyond the threat, you realize: behind your urges, it is all empty.

More Abstract Consequences of Mindfulness

(Shortform note: if you’re a novice meditator, the rest of this chapter may be vague. The lessons may feel more visceral once you practice further.)

The ultimate object of mindfulness is to learn to see the Buddhist truths of existence: impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness.

Impermanence

  • The world is forever changing. Molecules within your computer, your body, your home are shifting and slowly dissolving.
  • One day you look at yourself and you’ve aged. Aghast, you pine for lost youth. Where does this pain come from? Your own inattention - you failed to look closely at life. You assumed mistakenly that things would last forever.
  • With meditation, you perceive life as ever-flowing movement. All things are inherently transitory.

Unsatisfactoriness

  • Every worldly thing is in the end unsatisfying. There is no peace in clinging onto things - material possessions, sensations, emotions, health.
  • Many experiences themselves simply cause suffering - pain, sorrow, grief.
  • Even when you have pleasant experiences, they inevitably end, and you pine for more. You grasp onto the best memories, chasing them endlessly.

Selflessness

  • You have a deeply ingrained notion of self that is “me.” You view “me” as a thing separate from all other things. You pinch off “me” from the rest of the universe, then grieve over how lonely you feel. Doesn’t this seem self-defeating?
  • WIth meditation, you chip away at the concept of “me” to see your place in human society. In this way, you become tied to everyone else.

The three factors of meditation are morality, concentration, and wisdom. These influence the other.

  • Understanding things deeply requires a high-level objective view, giving equal weight to everyone’s concerns....

Why people love using Shortform

"I LOVE Shortform as these are the BEST summaries I’ve ever seen...and I’ve looked at lots of similar sites. The 1-page summary and then the longer, complete version are so useful. I read Shortform nearly every day.""
Jerry McPhee
Sign up for free

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapter 4: The Right Attitude

Meditation is very sensitive to the mental attitude you bring to the activity. Here’s the right attitude to have while meditating.

Don’t expect anything. Sit back and see what happens. See it as an experiment. Let the meditation move along at its own speed and in its own direction. Throw away your preconceptions of what it should feel like and what it should achieve.

Don’t strain or rush. Counter-intuitively, the more you force things, the further you’ll be from your goal.

Accept everything that arises. Don’t condemn yourself for having feelings you wish you didn’t have. Accept them. This is the first step to removing yourself of them.

Don’t expect the same thing every time. Every meditation is an experiment, and the feeling is just momentary. You will stagnate your practice.

Investigate for yourself. Don’t take any word as scripture. Even Buddha was a nonconformist, avoiding dogma. Discover your own insights and methods.

Don’t ponder. Thinking won’t free you from the trap. Meditation purifies the mind naturally by mindfulness, without using thoughts or words. Don’t think. See.

Don’t dwell upon contrasts. Focus on similarities.

  • Ordinary thinking is full of comparisons, leading to greed, jealousy and pride - “I’m more/less attractive/wealthy than that...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of Mindfulness in Plain English

Sign up for free

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapter 5: Starting Your Practice

Next, Mindfulness in Plain English introduces the starting steps to practicing meditation:

Determine how long you are going to meditate. Beginners can start at 10-20 minutes. But do not worry about attaining any particular goal within a particular time period - this will just be distracting and counterproductive.

Sit in a comfortable pose. Do not change the position again until the time you determined at the beginning. Shifting positions will avoid giving you a deep level of concentration.

Sit motionlessly and close your eyes.

Your mind is like a cup of muddy water. Keep it still, and the mud will settle down and the water will be seen clearly.

The mind must focus on a mental object that is present at every moment. The book recommends starting with focusing on your breath.

Take 3 deep breaths. Then breathe normally and effortlessly, focusing your attention on the rims of your nostrils where the air is flowing through.

  • Simply notice the feeling of breath going in and out. You may notice mindfully that there is a brief pause between inhaling and exhaling - but don’t obsess over this.

Do not verbalize or conceptualize anything. Simply notice the incoming and outgoing breath, and notice as the breath lengthens as you relax.

When your mind wanders, bring it back. The book suggests counting in a variety of ways, basically to distract your mind back to breathing:

  • Count 1 when inhaling, 2 when exhaling. Repeat to 10 then repeat.
  • Count 1 to 10 quickly when inhaling, and again when exhaling.
  • Count 1 to 5 when inhaling, 1 to 6 when exhaling, and so on up to 10, then repeat.
  • Count 1 at the top of your inhalation, then exhale. Then count 2 for the next breath. Go up to 10, then back down to 1.
  • After inhaling and exhaling, count 1. Do this up to 5, then back down to 1.
  • Once your mind is focused on the breath, give up counting.

(Shortform note: Don’t beat yourself up over getting distracted. Don’t fixate on the goal of achieving some desired end state. Don’t feel like a failure for not meeting mindfulness. Instead, think of meditation as the exercise of bringing your mind back to concentration. Every distraction is a chance to practice this and get better.)

Over time, your breathing will become shallower and more subtle. This is an indicator of concentration.

  • You will develop a new more subtle “sign” - which appears differently to different people (a star, a long string, a cobweb, the moon, a flower). Over time, master this so that whenever you want the sign, it should be available.
  • You will find great calm here free of psychic irritants. No agitation, greed, lust, hatred. These are beautiful, clear states of mind.

The mind must keep up with what is happening at every moment, so do not try to stop the mind at any one moment. This is momentary concentration.

When you feel in a state of concentration, the mind can then move to other sounds, memories, or emotions, one at a time. As they fade away, let your mind return to the breath.

Analogy: As we breathe in and out, we experience a small degree of calmness, as the relief of tension from suffocating. The calmness does not last as long as we wish,...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes.
Learn more about our summaries →

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapter 6: What to Do with Your Body

The author is clear to say that you should learn by doing, not by following dogmatic prescriptions. However, there are certain meditation practices that have been optimized over millennia, and they’re worth trying out.

The body position is meant to provide stability to remove distractions and create immobility of the mind.

Sit with your back straight. The spine should be erect, with the head in line with the spine. Be relaxed, not stiff. Have no muscular tension.

  • Straightness invites alertness. Slouching invites drowsiness.

Your clothing should be loose and soft. Don’t wear clothing so tight it restricts blood flow or nerve sensation. Take your shoes off.

You can choose to sit on the floor on in a chair.

When sitting on the floor:

  • Use a cushion that is relatively firm, at least 3 inches thick when compressed.
  • Sit close to the front edge of cushion, and let your crossed legs rest on the floor in front. Use some padding to protect shins and ankles from pressure.
    • Sitting too far back causes the front edge of cushion to press into thigh and pinch nerves.
  • Fold your legs in a style you’re comfortable with. In ascending order of preference:
    • Native American style - right foot tucked under left knee, left foot under right knee.
    • Burmese style - both legs lie flat on floor from knee to foot. They are in parallel.
    • Half lotus - both knees touch floor. One leg and foot lie flat along the calf of the other leg.
    • Full lotus - both knees touch floor. Each foot rests on the opposite thigh.
    • The lotus positions are best because they are most stable for long periods of time.
  • Hands are cupped one on the other, resting on lap below navel with wrist pressed against thigh, with palms turned upward. Relax arms.

When sitting on a chair:

  • Choose a chair with a level seat, straight...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of Mindfulness in Plain English

Sign up for free

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapter 7: What to Do with Your Mind

The state you are aiming for is where you are aware of everything that is happening in the moment, observing your thoughts forming and disappearing without engaging in the thoughts.

This is different from thinking about all thoughts that come up, which is akin to daydreaming.

There is a difference between being aware of a thought and thinking a thought. The “texture” is different.

  • Being aware of a thought is light in texture, arising lightly as a bubble, and the thought passes without giving rise to the next thought in the chain.
  • Normal conscious thought is heavier in texture - “ponderous, commanding, compulsive.” It leads straight to the next thought in the chain.

The object is to use breathing as the focus of concentration. Your breath is the reference point from which the mind wanders and is drawn back. Distractions, by definition, are deviations from a central focus. From this central focus of breathing, you then go on to note all physical and mental other phenomena that arise.

Why focus on breathing, and not any other thought or sensation? The author recommends breathing as the object of focus because:

  • It is portable, cheap, and freely available.
  • It happens automatically for most of the day, so being aware of it is subtly challenging. You’ve got to work at it to focus on it, but not focus too hard.
  • You need to learn to focus on your breathing without manipulating it. There are lessons to be learned here on the nature of will and desire.
    • Analogy: when sawing wood, you don’t watch the saw blade. You watch the line you’re cutting along.
  • There are many variations of breathing (length, depth, smoothness) that are interesting to observe.
    • But you must observe it without thinking about it, without verbalizing your thoughts about it. Don’t think: “my breath is smoothening out! What’s going to happen next?” Return merely to focusing on the breath.
  • Breath is universal to all living things, so it also connects you to the rest of the living world.
  • The breath is naturally a present-moment process. Once it passes it passes, and the next one comes. This transience is different from our memories or our future worries and plans.

Handling Distractions

Distractions will naturally arise. You’ll learn ot deal with them.

At times you will find yourself utterly incapable of wrangling your mind from thinking random thoughts. You will not be aware of where the thoughts come from, and you will feel crazy. This is the “monkey-mind.” Realize that your mind has always been this way - you have just never noticed.

Gently but firmly return to your focus. Do not get upset or judge yourself from straying. Do not force things out of your mind - this adds energy to the thoughts that will make them return stronger.

Set small goals. Try to focus for just one inhalation and exhalation. You will still fail, but keep at it.

(Shortform note: Again, don’t beat yourself up over getting distracted. Don’t fixate on the goal of achieving some desired end state. Don’t feel like a failure for not meeting mindfulness. Instead, think of meditation as the exercise of bringing your mind back to concentration. Every distraction is a chance to practice this and get better.)

States of Mind to Avoid

Just as you should avoid thinking, you should avoid sinking. Sinking is the dimming of awareness, a mental vacuum...

Want to Read the Rest of this
In Book Summary?

With Shortform, you can:

Access 1000+ non-fiction book summaries.

Highlight your
Favorite Passages.

Access 1000+ premium article summaries.

Take Notes on your
Favorite Books.

Read on the go with our iOS and Android App.

Download PDF Summaries.

Sign up for free

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapter 8: Structuring Your Meditation

Meditation requires continuous practice, and so it benefits from structure.

The environment: Sit in a quiet, secluded place where you won’t be disturbed. Don’t be on display or feel self-conscious. Avoid places with music or talking. Ideally sit in the same place each time.

When to Sit

Establish a formal practice schedule. Set aside a certain time.

  • Meditating in the morning is a good start to the day. Wake up fully, then sit down to meditate. Don’t get hung up in the day’s activities.
  • Evening before sleep is another good time. It clears your mind of mental rubbish throughout the day.

Once a day is enough when you begin.

Don’t overdo it so you feel like it’s a chore, or so you expect magical results when you apply it too intensely. The best is when you look forward to sitting.

How Long to Sit

Start with 20-30 minutes for sitting.

Choose the length before sitting, and stick to it. Don’t peek at your watch during it, just let the sitting come to a close.

After a year, you should be able to sit for an hour at a time. Seasoned meditators practice...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of Mindfulness in Plain English

Sign up for free

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapter 9: Set-up Exercises

It is tradition to begin meditation with a few recitations. They have a practical purpose for psychological cleansing and aren’t meant to be dogmatic rituals.

(Shortform note: similarly, there is a commonly accepted way to swim the breaststroke or hit a golf ball or do long division - meditation should be no different despite it being a mental rather than a physical activity.)

Try these out and if they don’t work for you, then discard them.

Recitation 1

“I am about to tread the very same path that has been walked by the Buddha and by his great and holy disciples. An indolent person cannot follow that path. May my energy prevail. May I succeed.”

This recitation is used to overcome the hesitation when facing the large task ahead of you. Your mind is a jumble, and overcoming that looks like climbing a massive wall. Knowing that others have struggled with the same issues and succeeded should imbue you with confidence.

Recitation 2

This wishes loving kindness on others.

“May ___ be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to ___. May they always meet with spiritual success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life. May they always rise above them with morality, integrity, forgiveness, compassion, mindfulness, and wisdom.”

Repeat this recitation multiple times, replacing the blanks with these in order: I | my parents | my teachers | my relatives | my friends | all indifferent persons | all unfriendly persons | all living beings.

Benefits of this Recitation

Mindfulness is egoless awareness. If you start with ego in full control, it is difficult to get mindfulness started. If your mind is in fury, it’s hard to focus during meditation.

This recitation overcomes the ego. Balance the negative emotion by instilling a positive one. Giving confronts greed; benevolence confronts hatred.

First you banish thoughts of self-hatred and self-condemnation, letting good wishes flow to yourself.

Then you expand out to other people, overcoming greed, selfishness, resentment, and hatred.

This is “universal loving friendliness.”

But you dislike your enemies. How can you wish well on your enemies?

  • Realize that they are suffering, just like you and everyone else. If your enemies were well, happy, and peaceful, they wouldn’t be your enemies. If they were free of pain, suffering, paranoia, fear - they wouldn’t be your enemies. So the practical approach is to help them overcome their problems, so you can live in peace and happiness.
  • In contrast, if you wish poorly on another person - “let him be poor. Let him fail. Let him be ugly” - this will generate a physiological stress response that handicaps you and makes you less pleasant to others.
  • By wishing well on them, you practice noble behavior, which will more likely improve your...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes.
Learn more about our summaries →

Shortform Exercise: Wishing Loving Kindness

Try the recitation to practice loving kindness to people you don’t usually wish it for.

The recitation: “May ___ be well, happy and peaceful. May no harm come to _. May they always meet with spiritual success. May they also have patience, courage, understanding, and determination to meet and overcome inevitable difficulties, problems, and failures in life. May they always rise above them with morality, integrity, forgiveness, compassion, mindfulness, and wisdom.”


Repeat this recitation multiple times (out loud or in your head), replacing the blanks with these in order: I | my parents | my teachers | my relatives | my friends | all indifferent persons | all unfriendly persons | all living beings. You can also picture specific people with whom you have problems.

How do you feel afterward? Do you sense any changes in someone you previously felt friction with?

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of Mindfulness in Plain English

Sign up for free

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapter 10: Dealing with Problems

Sometimes your meditation will feel like hitting a brick wall. These are opportunities to develop your practice. Instead of running away, you confront the problem head-on, examining it to oblivion. If you can deal with issues that arise in meditation, it will carry over to the rest of your life.

Buddhist philosophy: “pain is inevitable. Suffering is not.” Bad things happen to everyone. How you deal with it and interpret it determines how you are affected emotionally by bad things.

For all problems that arise, the general approach is to observe it mindfully without getting engaged. Watch the problem form, peak, and dissipate. Notice its intensity and how it affects the body. The problem will naturally dissipate. And you will find that many of our day-to-day emotions are simply superficial mental states that have no control over you.

The common problems that arise:

Physical pain

  • Get rid of physical pain before meditating (eg medicine for a headache).
  • Wear loose clothing and relax your posture. Keep your arms and neck muscles relaxed.
  • If pain remains, make the pain the object of your meditation. Explore the feeling.
    • You will observe there are two things - the pain itself, and your resistance to that pain. This is a barrier between “me” and “the pain.”
    • You will feel the physical resistance to the pain through muscle contraction. Relax those muscles one by one.
    • Mentally, you will find a “I don’t like this feeling” sentiment. Locate this and relax it too.
    • Once this barrier has vanished, you will find yourself merging with the pain. At this point, it no longer hurts - suffering is gone.
  • Don’t make the mistake of finding it hard to be mindful when you feel pain. In fact, mindfulness never exists by itself - it always has some object.
  • These techniques will carry over into the rest of life, including anxiety and sadness.

Drowsiness

  • Apply your mindfulness to the state of drowsiness itself. This awareness will evaporate drowsiness.
  • Try to eat lightly before meditating or wait after a big meal.
  • If you need to sleep, then sleep. You will not gain any new insight from fighting sleep.

Distraction

  • If you have irritating tasks or problems that keep coming up, solve them first before meditating. But don’t use this as an excuse to not meditate, thinking all your problems need to be solved.
  • If you don’t know what you’re agitated about, observe it, and the cause will eventually surface.

Stupor

  • By deepening concentration, you can enter a state where you feel pleasantly divorced from the body. If you dive into the pleasure too much, your mind will stop being mindful, attention scattering aimlessly through vague clouds of bliss.
  • Mindfully observe this and it will dissipate.

Miscellaneous

  • Legs going to sleep - don’t worry about legs going to sleep. It’s just nerves pinching, not lack of blood circulation. Numbness will disappear as you practice.
  • Boredom - mindfulness looks at everything with the...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes.
Learn more about our summaries →

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapter 11-12: Dealing with Distractions

It’s easier to concentrate in areas without distractions, hence why Buddhist monks go to meditation halls free of the other gender, noise, and daily concerns like food.

Example distractions are sounds, sensations, emotions, fantasy. Emotions include desire, aversion, self-condemnation, agitation, doubt.

For all distractions that arise, the general approach is to observe it mindfully without getting engaged. Watch the distraction form and dissipate. Notice its intensity and how it affects the body. Notice how long it lasts. Don’t help or hinder the thought. The distraction will naturally dissipate.

The ideal you’re going for is to experience each mental state fully, adding nothing to it nor missing a part of it. Example: with pain, there is a pure, flowing sensation. You don’t reject it, attach words to it, or think about it. You don’t picture a colored diagram of the leg with lightning bolts shooting at where it hurts. Instead, you simply become aware of it and watch it come and go.

Thoughts are often verbalized as “I have a pain in my leg.” You add the “I” to the experience, identifying with the pain. Leave “I” out of it - then pain is not painful, it’s simply a surging energy flow.

Don’t force the distraction away. Switch your attention to it briefly. It will eventually go away. “Fight with them and they gain strength. Watch them with detachment and they wither.”

Ponder these things wordlessly. While at first you’ll need to ask your questions in words, soon you will do it by second nature and then return to the breath. It’s a nonconceptual process.

Do not condemn yourself for having distractions that detract from mindfulness. Mindfulness requires a target of focus, and distractions are a secondary object of attention taking you away from breathing. Distractions are an exercise to get through, much like a hurdle in a race. They are the very object of practice.

Trickiest of all is positive mental states - happiness, peace, compassion. Depriving yourself of this makes you feel like a traitor to humanity. But treat them like any other mental state - don’t become attached. Observe them for what they are, and watch them come and go.

If multiple sensations arise at once, then focus on the strongest one, let it fade away, then return to your breathing.

Tactics for Dealing with Distractions

Sometimes you won’t be able to merely observe the distraction and ponder them without thoughts. In these cases, there are more techniques:

  • Gauge the time that’s passed since you got distracted. This makes you pull out of the thought and become mindful of it.
    • The accuracy of the time estimate isn’t important - it’s the mindfulness that is.
  • If you feel agitated, take a few deep breaths and apply force to your attention. This helps clear the mind.
    • Think “in…out” as you breathe
  • Count numbers with your breaths, as described in chapter 5.
  • Oppose unskillful thoughts with skillful thoughts
    • An unskillful thought is for instance based in greed, hatred, resentment. These are unskillful in that they are easy for everyone to have and build into obsessions.
    • Skillful thoughts are connected with generosity, compassion, and wisdom. It is difficult for most people to feel these throughout the day.
    • Skillful thoughts are antidotes to the poison of unskillful thoughts. If you resent Charlie and want to punch his face, try directing a stream of love and friendliness toward Charlie.
  • Develop a disgust for your unhealthy emotions
    • Take a good look at the emotional response you are trying to get rid of. Look at what it’s doing to your life, your happiness, your relationships. See how it makes you appear to others.
    • You should have a disgust for it, much as you would to a decaying carcass around your neck. Feel real loathing for the negative emotion.
  • Recall your purpose. “I’m not just sitting here to waste my time. I’m here to focus my mind on the breath.”

Improvements Over Time

As you begin, you’ll notice yourself getting caught in a thought pattern for unknown minutes before you snap back into mindfulness. This is an unconscious mental state taking over your brain.

As you practice, you will become better at detecting when the subconscious thought arises - as the author describes it, you learn to “extend your awareness down into the boiling darkness where thought and sensation begin.”

Ideally, you become aware of the thinking sensation exactly as it arises. If you catch it too late, you miss the beginning.

Over time, you will observe your thoughts and...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of Mindfulness in Plain English

Sign up for free

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapter 13-14: What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is difficult to attach words to, as by nature it is presymbolic (it exists beyond the use of symbols to represent it). But the author tries to describe what characterizes mindfulness:

  • The feeling of pure non-conceptual awareness before you conceptualize the thing and turn it into conscious thought.
  • Nonjudgmental, without any preconceived notions.
    • It’s impossible to observe what’s going on if you don’t accept its occurrence. It’s important to accept your negative emotions without judgment to deal with them fully.
  • Present-moment: it takes place here and now. Thinking about the past or the future requires conscious thinking that is not mindfulness.
  • Non-egotistic: it does not refer to the self. No “I” or “me.” It merely observes what is there.
    • For example, “I have a pain” is distorting the sensation.
  • Aware of change.
    • It watches phenomena decay and die.
    • It watches how a sensation affects the body.
    • It sees the mind change from mindfulness to conscious thought.
  • It has a light, clear energetic flavor. In contrast, conscious thought is heavy, ponderous.
  • Sees things as they are, without adding anything or subtracting anything.
    • Conscious thought loads us down with concepts and ideas, attaches emotions.
    • Mindfulness is mere awareness: “ah, this...and this...and now this.”
  • Total nonattachment and lack of clinging.
  • Sees directly the three Buddhist truths of experience: impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, selflessness.

Practically, mindfulness clears your mind of psychic irritants by allowing you to become aware of them, observe them objectively without emotion, recognize their destruct impact, and allow them to dissipate without their taking over you.

Mindfulness vs Concentration

Concentration and mindfulness are different things.

  • Concentration is applied force to focus on a single thing. It is sheer willpower.
  • Mindfulness is a sensitive function leading to refined sensibilities. It notices things. It cannot be cultivated by struggle.

Mindfulness picks the objects of attention and notice when the focus has strayed. Concentration does the actual work of holding the attention steady. Concentration is the sun’s parallel rays, and mindfulness is the lens that focuses the rays onto an object.

They should be developed as a team. Mindfulness is more important, but one cannot survive without the other.

  • Concentration without mindfulness leads to conscious obsession - lust, greed, resentment. It does not understand what it sees. Or, if the mind is blank, it can lead too much to...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes.
Learn more about our summaries →

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapter 15: Meditation in Everyday Life

The ultimate goal is to be mindful in every waking moment outside of meditation. Meditation is merely practice for this ultimate goal, instilling new habits. What’s the point if you feel at peace during meditation but return to the real world with anger?

It’s essential to apply effort to connect meditation with the rest of your existence. Otherwise, the carryover will be slow and unreliable without dedicated effort. The below exercises allow you to practice little bits of mindfulness outside the sitting meditation. You go into a meditative state when doing everyday activities - walking, drinking tea, breathing, waiting - and develop mindfulness outside sitting meditation.

With time, you will pleasantly find that you’re meditating without thinking about it - driving down the freeway or brushing your teeth.

Walking Meditation

Sitting meditation is by nature still, but conscious life is all about motion. To translate mindfulness practices over into the conscious life, Bhante recommends practicing meditation while walking slowly.

Here’s how to do it:

  • Find a secluded place where you’ll be free from observation and be able to take 5-10 steps in a straight line.
  • At one end, stand attentively for one minute. Hands can be held in front, back, or at your sides.
  • Then, while breathing in, lift the heel of one foot. While breathing out, rest that foot on its toes. Repeat.
  • After reaching the other side, turn around, pause one minute, then repeat.
  • Observe the sensations of taking a step - lifting, swinging, coming down, touching, pressing. Register every nuance of the movement. Don’t think about the sensation or the concept of feet.

Postures

For a few seconds periodically, examine your body from head to toe. How is your body arranged? How are you holding it? What is sore? What else do you feel?

The purpose is not to correct your posture or admonish yourself for having bad posture. Instead, it’s a break from the day.

Slow-Motion Activity

Slow down an everyday activity to 10x the time it normally takes to complete. Witness every single component of the action, pay full attention to every nuance.

For example, if you are sitting and drinking tea:

  • Note your posture as you sit
  • Feel the handle of the cup in your fingers
  • Smell the aroma of the tea
  • Note the placement of the cup, the tea, your arm, the table
  • Watch the intention to raise your arm within your mind
  • Feel your arm as it rises
  • Feel the cup against your lip
  • Feel the liquid pouring into your mouth.

Do the same with your thoughts, words, and movements.

Breath Coordination

When moving, coordinate the activity with your breathing. (Walking, biking, cleaning, etc). This lends a flowing rhythm to your movement and smooths out transitions.

Stolen Moments

Do you feel you have any periods of wasted time in your day? When you feel bored?

Turn every spare moment into meditation. Be alert and aware throughout the day. What are you feeling at the moment? Why?

Examples - while waiting at the doctor’s office; in line at the supermarket; while doing menial labor.

Concentration on All Activities

Aim for the situation where there is little difference between seated meditation and...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of Mindfulness in Plain English

Sign up for free

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Chapter 16: Benefits of Meditation

What tend to be the benefits of meditation?

Selflessness - many psychic irritants are centered around the ego: “I feel pain. I want more. She’s better than me.” There is a clear partition between you and the world. Through meditation, you necessarily let go of the ego as you observe your feelings come and go. You see greed, resentment, anger for what they are and what they do to you and others. Eventually you internalize the damage of negative emotions, and you avoid it unconsciously, much like a child who is burned by a fire avoids fire.

Everything looks bright and special again when you actually observe the present. You enjoy each passing moment by being aware of it. Everything seems to be in constant transformation. There is joy in this change. You accept pain, old age, and death as part of reality.

You become aware of when you are mindful and when you are not. You’ll notice when you become mired in emotional thought, twisting reality with your mental color instead of merely observing it.

You see the source of your frustrations - your inability to get what you want, your fear of losing what you have, and your eternal dissatisfaction with what you have. Your concerns are actually superficial when you are mindful of them. You realize that your emotions are always momentary states, and you learn to let them go.

When you look behind your impulses and automatic emotional reactions, you see that they...

What Our Readers Say

This is the best summary of How to Win Friends and Influence People I've ever read. I learned all the main points in just 20 minutes.
Learn more about our summaries →

Mindfulness in Plain English Summary Afterword: The Power of Loving Friendliness

Metta is loving friendliness. When you project it out to other people, you feel more at peace yourself. You become calm and peaceful, with your anger and resentment fading away. Your words and your deeds become warmer, and you live with others in harmony.

In contrast, wishing ill on others or acting immorally is poisoning yourself.

The Buddha defines four sublime states: loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. A good analogy for understanding this is the evolution of how a parent views her child:

  • Loving friendliness - in the beginning, there is pure love and caring for the child. It is limitless and unconditional.
  • Compassion - as the infant makes mistakes and feels pain, the parent feels pain as well. This is not pity, which distances people - compassion is the hope that the pain should stop and the child not suffer.
  • Appreciative Joy - as the child begins achieving things - making friends, earning awards - the parent is full of happiness, not of resentment or jealousy.
    • Note that we can celebrate all people’s achievement, even when their success exceeds our own.
  • Equanimity - as the child becomes an adult, the parent must sit back, knowing they have done all they could for their child. They can no longer steer the child’s life.

Even for the most ornery and unpleasant people you know, wish them peace and discover their potential for loving friendliness.You don’t know their background or experiences, and you may be misinterpreting their behavior.

The following recitations are excerpts from the book.

Start With Yourself

Start by showing loving friendliness to yourself. Make peace with your shortcomings. Embrace your weaknesses.

“May my mind be filled with the thoughts of loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. May I be generous. May I be gentle. May I be relaxed. May I be happy and peaceful. May I be healthy. May my heart become soft. May my words be pleasing to others. May my actions be kind.

May all that I see, hear, smell, taste, touch, and think help me to cultivate loving friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. May all these experiences help me to cultivate thoughts of generosity and gentleness. May they all help me to relax. May they inspire friendly behavior. May these experiences be a source of peace and happiness. May they help me be free from fear, tension, anxiety, worry, and restlessness.

No matter where I go in the world, in any direction, may I greet people with happiness, peace, and friendliness. May I be protected in all directions from greed, anger, aversion, hatred, jealousy, and fear.”

Extend Outwards

All beings want happiness and less suffering. This connects you with the rest of the living universe. Wish well-being for them.

“May all beings in all directions, all around the universe, have good hearts. Let them be happy, let them have good fortune, let them be kind, let them have good and caring friends. May all beings everywhere be filled with the feeling of loving friendliness - abundant, exalted, and measureless. May they be free from enmity, free from affliction and anxiety. May they live happily.”

Wish your adversaries spiritual success, not material or immoral success. You should not wish someone who’s trying to kill you to succeed with their goal. Rather, if they were to improve their spiritual happiness, they would not be acting in a way that causes you harm.

“May my adversaries be well, happy, and peaceful. May no harm come to them, may no difficulty come to them, may no pain come to them. May they always meet with success.”

Dealing with Anger

It’s easy to fixate on hating another person. You pick one aspect of them you dislike, discarding everything else that might be virtuous.

When you get angry about someone, ask yourself what it is you hate about her. Her hair? The way they she does work? Her children? Her house? Her teeth? Her smile? As you go through the possibilities, you will find yourself balancing the target of your ire with other redeeming qualities.

How should you react if someone directs her anger at you? Insults you, sabotages you? Do not fight anger with anger - it doesn’t make the other person feel any better. Responding with anger is a conditioned response. It is unskilled.

Instead, **respond with loving...

Try Shortform for free

Read full summary of Mindfulness in Plain English

Sign up for free

Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Shortform Introduction
  • Chapter 1: Meditation: Why Bother?
  • Exercise: Examine Your Own Emotions
  • Chapters 2-3: What Meditation Is and Isn’t
  • Chapter 4: The Right Attitude
  • Chapter 5: Starting Your Practice
  • Chapter 6: What to Do with Your Body
  • Chapter 7: What to Do with Your Mind
  • Chapter 8: Structuring Your Meditation
  • Chapter 9: Set-up Exercises
  • Exercise: Wishing Loving Kindness
  • Chapter 10: Dealing with Problems
  • Chapter 11-12: Dealing with Distractions
  • Chapter 13-14: What is Mindfulness?
  • Chapter 15: Meditation in Everyday Life
  • Chapter 16: Benefits of Meditation
  • Afterword: The Power of Loving Friendliness