Book review: Calm by Michael Acton Smith
Billy has read Calm by Michael Acton Smith – here are his thoughts on this mindfulness-focused book.
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To fully appreciate the utility of Michael Acton Smith’s Calm, it’s useful to paint a broad picture of the culture it endeavours to influence.
In contemporary Western societies, we’re trained to keep ourselves occupied at all times. There’s systemic emphasis on the virtues of hard work and associated encouragement to continually seek out career-expanding opportunities or means of professional improvement. Then there are the forces of consumer capitalism aiming to convince us that without their latest product, we’d be entirely out of touch.
Don’t get me wrong, modern science has furnished us with a vast supply of irrefutably beneficial technologies. Likewise, there are plenty of people who love their jobs and feel a great sense of satisfaction in attending to their weekly workload. But you don’t need to be a canny sociologist to perceive a culture of exhaustive activity – where the quest for productivity is supplemented by binges of digital distraction.
As more individuals come to recognise the unrelenting nature of this cycle, one word keeps popping up as a suitable antidote: mindfulness. But while the concept of mindfulness is gaining more exposure, for many people it remains shrouded in ambiguity or seems like an inaccessible psychological methodology.
This is where Calm nominates itself as a practical middle ground – a low-key entry point with the potential for kick-starting a major lifestyle revitalisation.
Much of the existing mindfulness literature can be a touch off-putting. It’s not that it fails to underline the substantive benefits of daily mindfulness practice, but elucidating the topic usually involves a hefty dose of psychological terminology and pages of statistical findings. You can understand how reading this stuff mightn’t be particularly effective at inducing a calm, meditative state.
Calm doesn’t offer a comprehensive outline of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. It’s actually rather slim on written text, opting for a suggestive approach instead. But here’s the book’s central definition of mindfulness:
“A practice that offers us the ability to wake up and become present in our everyday lives . . . it gets us to notice what’s actually going on within our minds and bodies . . . so that calm, clear thinking replaces habitual reactive patterns.”
Each chapter in Calm relates to one of eight core lifestyle components: nature, sleep, travel, relationships, work, children, creativity and food. The pages of each section feature a variety of colourful illustrations as well as motivational quotes from the likes of William Shakespeare, Steve Jobs, Maya Angelou and Winnie the Pooh creator, A.A. Milne. The aim is to evoke a sense of calm while also disabling the reader’s habitual linear reading practice.
The author insists that the book can be useful at any time, perhaps to guide readers through a stressful period at work, offer advice before a major stint of travelling or help to overcome a disrupted sleeping pattern.
There are straightforward instructions for a number of themed meditations and many hands-on activities to bring you out of the abstract and into a calmer space. Journal pages appear at the conclusion of each chapter and we encourage you to complete this activity for yourself today. Just write a few paragraphs in reply to these three questions:
- What made you feel calm today?
- What are you grateful for?
- What were three highlights of today?
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