"Siddhartha's Brain: Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment" (William Morrow), by James Kingsland
It's a pleasure to read "Siddhartha's Brain," which comes from a science journalist with long experience of explaining ideas for readers of The Guardian and other publications. James Kingsland even includes guided meditation exercises throughout a book that explores mindfulness and its benefits.
"For contemplatives with a tendency to intellectualize — which would probably include people who read books about the science of enlightenment — mindfulness of breathing is strongly recommended," he suggests at one point. Others might focus on compassion, or on the putrefaction of the body if easily distracted by sensual desire.
Kingsland draws from the life of Siddhartha Gautama, founder of Buddhist philosophy and practice, and from research and personal exploration to show what lies behind the book's striking first sentence: "'We are all mentally ill,' said the smiling monk in the wide-brimmed hat, as if this explained everything."
Anyone familiar with meditation will know that it involves not avoiding uncomfortable feelings but focusing on them calmly and with detachment. But Kingsland wants to know how this came to be. "What has gone so wrong during the evolution of the human brain that it needs to be fixed by meditation? Curiously, no one I spoke to during my research for this book had given much thought to this question."
This is a smart, accessible balance of philosophical teachings and brain science and how meditation can relate to everything from addiction to Alzheimer's disease.
Whether you are comfortable with being alone with your wandering mind or avoid it at all costs, you'll learn something useful from this book.