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More than mindful

by
19 August 2016

Rachel Giles reviews a book that moves a spiritual practice on

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Soulfulness: Deepening the mindful life
Brian Draper
Hodder & Stoughton £13.99
(978-1-473-63074-1)
Church Times Bookshop £12.60

 

 

TAKE a deep breath: here is another book inspired by mindfulness. We have had courses, apps, and colouring books. Now Brian Draper wants to give us his perspective. Can it hold our attention?

Soulfulness claims to help readers “deepen the mindful life”. It will appeal to those who already have some experience of mindfulness meditation, or those who have never tried it but want to know what all the fuss is about.

To start, Draper discusses what is right with mindfulness, citing the various benefits that neuroscience supports: reduced stress, increased compassion, more creativity. But he also has a warning: “The point is not to use techniques such as mindfulness to become ‘better adapted cogs’ in the otherwise toxic machinery of contemporary life.”

There has to be more, he argues: a moral dimension, a profound opportunity for spirituality to emerge, which can be nothing less than a life’s adventure. Once our thoughts and feelings are quietened and our ego is stilled, mindfulness can, Draper says, help us to get to “the threshold of soul”.

But what exactly is soul? Draper sensibly does not try to define it too narrowly. Of course, soul is impossible to see, measure or pin down — but he points to others’, especially artists’, attempts to evoke it. Rather, the point of this book is to set out what the soulful life looks like. Soulfulness, he writes, “gives flesh-and-blood expression to our unique, inner aliveness, through a loving reconnection with all parts of life”.

Draper is upfront about his own Christian spirituality: it is embedded in his writing, but he is not on a mission to convert; his tone is gentle and encouraging. It is clear from his examples that the soulful life has something to do with God, and soulfulness seems to address the deepest human questions: How do we love one another? How can we be truly alive, here and now? How do we find meaning and purpose?

The practical ideas, summarised at the back of the book, range from the sensible — doing one thing at a time; remembering to pause and breathe — to others that might enjoyably test British reserve, such as hugging eight people in one day, or hugging one person eight times in one day. But all help us to become more alive to the life that God has given us, now.

This is not to say that Draper presents the soulful life as a kind of blissed-out state devoid of paradox or suffering. He addresses both, not expecting the reader to accept pat answers; the soul has its dark nights and acceptance is the way through. This is hugely welcome: language, in Christian circles, that acknowledges suffering and lament is highly biblical, but not always uttered.

Soulfulness might seem like yet another book on mindfulness, but it is actually quite radical. It takes the good things of that practice and adds some salt and light to the mix. It seeks to wake us up, wherever we are on our spiritual journey.

 

Rachel Giles is a freelance writer and editor.

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