Sally Kempton’s Meditation for the Love of It seems to be one of the most popular introductions to meditation out there, gauging by its Amazon sales rank and popularity. It even features a forward written by Elizabeth Gilbert of Eat Pray Love fame, which does make one suspect that its target audience is restless, bored, and spiritually adventurous middle-class Americans. All of which applies to me, so no judgment.
Where Kempton shines is when she gets down to the business of offering practical instructions for meditation, such as her lengthy discussion of posture and technique in chapter 4. Interspersed throughout the book are also a great number of practical meditation exercises for exploration. These I found absolutely wonderful, and have tried out a few of them on my own (purple flowered) meditation cushion. Since my attempts to find a really skilled meditation teacher or group here in Munich have thus far been fruitless, I really appreciate having an extremely well-known and well-respected meditation teacher “speaking” to me through this book. She describes and provides practical instruction for several kinds of meditation, such as mantra repetition, awareness of Awareness, and seeing thoughts as energy. She closes the book with a detailed schedule for a three-week “meditation breakthrough program” that involved meditation 3 hours per day. Uh, sure. Right. Because I have three hours to spare in my day.
On the other hand, Kempton’s book begins with the sentence, “One summer afternoon during a meditation retreat, I discovered that I contain the entire universe” … and gets even more abstract and gooey from there. The language is sometimes overly New Age-y and imprecise, and the book features call-out quotes from a randomly chosen mix of Zen masters, yogis, Christian mystics, desert fathers, contemporary poets, and obscure gurus, as if there were no reason whatsoever to draw a distinction between these (very different) types of spiritual figures and the schools of meditation/contemplation they represent. (But maybe that is just the religious studies major in me getting all hot and bothered about the total and utter lack of precision in this book; don’t mind me.)
Summary: I will be keeping this book around for its extremely detailed and helpful guidelines for different meditation exercises and for its wonderful practical advice. That said, I will just be ignoring the muddy grey stew of Kempton’s spirituality, in which all great religious traditions of the world and their very distinct, highly precise theologies and philosophies are tossed into one soup pot and stirred around for a while. In other words, while I can’t quite embrace Kempton’s watery New Age / Self Help theological stance, I’ll be glad to accept her extraordinary expertise on my meditation cushion.