Sharon Salzberg has taught meditation for 36 years, written 8 books, co-founded the Insight Meditation Society, and has been a contributing editor at O, The Oprah Magazine while writing for many other publications. She is profiled as a Living Spiritual Teacher at Spirituality & Practice.
In the introduction to this useful work, Salzberg notes that a 2007 survey by the National Center for Health Statistics showed that more than 20 million Americans had practiced meditation in the previous 12 months. They told researchers that they did it to improve their overall wellness, to reduce stress, relieve pain, and to deal with the symptoms of chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. The author has written this book for the millions who have not yet tried meditation and are looking for ways to make better decisions, break bad habits, recover from disappointments, and find more balance in their lives.
In this four-week program, Salzberg explores the practice of insight meditation which is the simple and direct practice of moment-to-moment awareness. This Buddhist practice strengthens attention through the cultivation of concentration, mindfulness, and compassion (or lovingkindness). One of the less emphasized benefits of meditation, according to Salzberg, is that it is "a clear, straightforward method for improving relationships with family, friends, and everyone else we meet."
Week One begins with a focus on Concentration with sections on breathing and the art of starting over. There are meditations by Salzberg along with a very helpful Q & A session where she responds to concerns about obsessing, restlessness, and stiffness in the body.
Week Two centers on Mindfulness and the Body with an emphasis upon letting go of burdens. Salzberg shares a Walking Meditation, a Body Sensation Meditation, and a Drinking Tea Meditation.
Week Three revolves around Mindfulness and Emotions with the accent being on dealing with how thoughts influence emotions. Here Salzberg's creativity comes through with illustrative material from Jon Muth's children's book Zen Shorts and Pablo Neruda's poem "Keeping Quiet."
Week Four is on Lovingkindness with the focus on cultivating compassion and true happiness. This excellent session ends with "Ten Ways to Deepen Your Practice."
Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation also contains a CD with guided meditations for each week.