We've all heard of the idea of mindfulness and I'm sure you are either in camp "I'm tired of hearing about mindfulness!" or camp "I'm all in and it's changed my life!". Well this article is for everyone in the middle floating around somewhere. Without spending time trying to describe what mindfulness is, I'll simply say a few words on how it has changed my life.
I started reading mindfulness books about six years ago after my relationship ended and my counselor at the time recommended a couple of books for me to read. She felt I needed to reflect on my own mind a bit more and perhaps look at the world in a different way (Those two books by the way were Pema Chodron's When Thing Fall Apart and Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection).
Pema's book, described below, led me to find other authors within the mindfulness and Buddhism real and to give you a starting point, I've shared five of my favorites with a brief description for you to check out.
1. Pema Chodron's When Things Fall Apart
This book was a life changer for me. Pema has a gentle and kind way of writing that allows you to sit back and take a deep breath all while taking comfort in the understanding that change in life is inevitable. Things falling apart isn't something to be afraid but rather accept as a part of life and accept as a part of our changing world. With things falling apart comes renewal and growth and an opportunity to feel reborn in life. Pema brings kindness and honesty to the conversation and asks the reader to be kind to themselves but also be honest.
Pema, for example, points out how we typically react to negative situations:
“Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape -- all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can't stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain.”
Wherever you may find yourself in life, this book is always a great reminder that all of the emotions that come and go in our lives are fleeting and we should be willing to look at them with a sense of calm openness.
2. Jon Kabat-Zinn's Wherever You Go, There You Are
Jon Kabat-Zinn's book Wherever You Go, There You Are is probably one the best starting books on mindfulness you can find. It's written to someone who has never practiced meditation, but those who have practiced for a lifetime will likely also find value here. A book that combines Jon's own experiences with philosophical teachings and references, this is a valuable book to pick up and slowly make your way through. An interesting thought in today's day and age as we wage the outrage and bitterness seem to grow in strength:
"Ultimately, it is our mindlessness that imprisons us. We get better and better at being out of touch with the full range of our possibilities, and more and more stuck in our cultivated-over-a-lifetime habits of not-seeing, but only reacting and blaming."
For those of you who want THE instruction manual on mindfulness and more reasons behind it's popularity and why it works, check out Jon's other book Full Catastrophe Living. I have the revised edition and it was one of the earliest books I used to learn the fundamentals of meditating.
3. Thich Nhat Hanh's Peace Is Every Step
Much like Pema, Thich brings a humble approach to mindfulness and through his writing you can see that he has come to terms with his own struggles early in his life with the Vietnam War going on all around him and being exiled from the country that he loved. He spends a lot of time thinking about many of the emotions and feelings that we have and even the day to day activities that we find ourselves involved in. Through a variety of books on different subjects like Anger, Silence, and Love, this book is a good primer to many of those. It's an opportunity to see whether you like Thich's style of writing before diving into any one topic.
A favorite quote of mine that can be tough to remember in particular heated moments:
“When you begin to see that your enemy is suffering, that is the beginning of insight.”
This book is for someone who wants a mindfulness book to reflect on every day life and perhaps bring a touch more spirituality to the table.
4. Alan Watts' The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are
Moving deeper past the ideas of mindfulness and Buddhism, Alan Watts writes a book on what truly drives most of us, our ego. The ego is a thread that you encounter throughout many of the teachings of Buddhism and mindfulness and the idea of recognizing it for what it is and coming to terms with it. Alan takes it a step further and opens up his own mind and philosophy on why it is critical that we truly understand who we are and who the ego is.
One of Alan's more famed points on the importance of truly knowing what we want:
“For if you know what you want, and will be content with it, you can be trusted. But if you do not know, your desires are limitless and no one can tell how to deal with you. Nothing satisfies an individual incapable of enjoyment.”
It's not for the feint of heart, but it's an important read. A recognition that much of what we face can be tied back to our egos that we allow to run amok.
5. Alan Watts' The Wisdom of Insecurity
Perhaps the least focused on mindfulness per say, I often put Alan Watts in this category because of his deep introspection and philosophy of the troubles with man. Through mindfulness and meditation he has found his own philosophy on life and how to navigate many of the troubles we face within ourselves. When you read a quote like this, you can see the present moment nature that fills much of Alan's writings:
“Tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unless you are in full contact with the reality of the present, since it is in the present and only in the present that you live. There is no other reality than present reality, so that, even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly.”
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