Review :

John Welwood does a wonderful job on showing the differences between Western views of consciousness (based on psychotherapy) and Buddhism. Neither Buddhism or Western psychotherapy deny the need for a strong ego. (Imagine ego as the continued ideas and representations that we have of ourselves.) A strong ego controls impulses, has adequate self-esteem (neither too high or too low) and is competent in worldly functioning. The problem is that for Buddhism (and the other great world religions) a functioning ego is not enough. Another way of saying this is that you can have a functioning ego and still miss out on much more that this existence has to offer. And still another way of saying this is that you can have a functioning ego (you can be wonderfully self-confident, fully in control of your impulses and function in such a way as to meet all your physical needs and still be miserable. Buddhists would not be surprised since the ego wants to be somebody always and to be somebody you must be constantly grasping and grasping is the source of suffering. Meditation and the development of mindfulness slowly reveals an awareness that is egoless or beyond the ego. In its intermediate stage this awareness is the witness that recognizes the ego's painful doings. In its ultimate stage this awareness is non-dual. I don't know what it is like to reach that ultimate expansive stage where there is no ego, no you or me, no this or that, but I have feeling that it is an extremely wholesome state. The beauty of a book like this one is that it encourages and shows how even small steps in the development of mindfulness can have a healing effect on the mental illnesses that afflict us. All mental illness is in some way or another at bottom a form of identification with a story, a self-image, a world view so narrow and constricted that it causes pain. Mindfulness creates the space necessary to see the pain, the narrowness and falsity of the mental construct. This is one of those books that develops awareness of your own mind, of your own ego doings, healthy and unhealthy, even as you read. And that is a good start.

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