The Art & Science of Meditation is a wonderfully practical guide to meditation; not just *a* form of meditation, but the broader concept of meditation itself. The author, Lisa Erickson, has clearly put her 30 years of practice (in many traditions, it seems) to good use, taking the reader gently by the hand and leading them through a grand tour of what meditation is and is not, a variety of styles, and even broad guidelines for finding a teacher or practice that is right for you. If that one friend has been raving to you about meditation for what feels like forever, but you've been feeling daunted at the prospect of figuring a new thing, this book is absolutely for you.
Erickson uses Part 1 of the book to lay out the case for meditation - why you should do it and what the common obstacles are and how you can begin to overcome them. She then follows-up with a good overview of what science has to say about meditation. (Hint: lots of good things.) If you've been interested in meditation but aren't sure if it's right for you, Part 1 will help you that answer the question. Then, you're either done (and yay for not wasting time!) or you're ready to proceed.
Part 2 lays a foundation for your understanding of meditative practices, looking at the history of meditation traditions worldwide before getting in to explanations of many common forms of meditation. Erickson spends the most time going over two of the most common paths: Yoga and Buddhism. My only nitpick with these chapters is that her filter of what is and is not necessary to know about a tradition in order to practice meditation according to its precepts is fairly permissive. There's obviously a cultural appropriation issue to be sensitive to, but Erickson herself states early on that whole libraries exist to explore any of these traditions, so this book would never be able to be a thorough examination of *any* of them. Having acknowledged this, her "primer" level explanation of these first two topics seemed overly-exhaustive. Really though, I've spent more time explaining my gripe than I actually did worrying about it. The last portion of Part 2 offers a series of briefer overviews of five more options, again noting that this is a representative sample and not an exhaustive list. I found her write-ups here to be concise and valuable explanations.
Parts 3 and 4 are what I thought of as "the first day of the rest of your life." In these chapters Erickson talks about common obstacles, but unlike in part 1 these are issues that occur in the practice of meditation, not in deciding whether to do it or stick to it once you have. She also includes incredibly valuable information on the meditation training that exists in the world, as well as the people who offer it. How to diagnose the value of a program for yourself, how to choose (and avoid!) a teacher, and how to participate in the process if you do go in for a training regimen... this was worth the price of admission all by itself. Don't get excited in part 2 and jump into the deep end without working through to the end of the book!
As a relative newcomer to meditation, I can honestly say that I wish I'd had The Art & Science of Meditation in my hands when I was first setting out. Many things that I had to sort out for myself would have been much smoother and I feel certain I'd be further along my path. I whole-heartedly recommend this book to anyone considering meditation.
Author: Lisa Erickson
Llewellyn Publications, 2020
pp. 264, $17.99