Wake Up to Your Life: Discovering the Buddhist Path of Attention by Ken McLeod


By Phil Catalfo  |  

HarperSanFrancisco

“To wake up is hard,” Ken McLeod writes early in this book. “We must first realize that we are
asleep.” McLeod offers such direct, no-nonsense observations on every page of this impressive work,
which presents the essential teachings of Buddhism and its practice of mindfulness in a secular,
straightforward fashion designed to reach the Western mind. Wake Up to Your Life is not “the first
book to deconstruct Buddhism for Westerners,” as its promotional literature suggests; by now there
have been hundreds if not thousands of books on Buddhism published for Westerners.

But this one is especially good, because of three things McLeod, director of Unfettered Mind, a Buddhist teaching
and consulting service in Los Angeles, has going for him: his clear, incisive voice; his unwavering
commitment to embracing the Four Noble Truths; and his ability to be both lighthearted and
serious—without contriving to be either. As gifted a storyteller as famed meditation teacher and
author Jack Kornfield, McLeod includes a generous helping of quotes and anecdotes from Sufi author
Idries Shah, baseball legend and inadvertent koan master Yogi Berra, and everyone in between.

Throughout the book’s 450 pages, he distills the nature and purpose of Buddhism to make it
accessible for any newcomer without dumbing it down, a remarkable achievement in its own right,
especially given how many of the aforementioned books do offer a kind of “Buddhism for Morons,”
hoping to cash in on a spirituality fad—as if a 2500-year-old practice can be considered a fad.
McLeod’s explanations of the core insights and aims of Buddhism is as clear and intelligible as
any I’ve seen, and readers will find the many meditative exercises he provides both doable and
useful. This is not a feel-good book; like the Buddha’s original teachings, Wake Up to Your Life
is about confronting death, “dismantling belief,” and beginning the difficult, lifelong work of
transcending the “I” that sees itself as separate from all else. As such, it is a good, helpful,
compassionate, necessary book, and more valuable than a whole library of volumes telling us
what we want to hear.