It’s December, and if you know someone who needs a nice contemplative present for Christmas this year, try one of these gems on mindfulness. These authors have taken the time to carve out some great meaning and emotional sustenance for their readers. The perspective and insight from all five of these books is worth curling up by the fireside to read through the winter.Dr Brene Brown is a research professor based right here in Houston, at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work. She is perhaps best known for her TED Talk titled, The Power of Vulnerability, which has over 25 million views online, an idea explored in the book. The message she presented is based on years of her research about human values like courage, shame and vulnerability. The time she spent talking to people helped her identify patterns and trends that formed the groundwork for Daring Greatly. In the book, she explores the intangible stuff not immediately apparent through numbers, and argues that perhaps stories are data with a soul. She vouches for the disposition to be vulnerable in life. Although she admits that the experience can be deeply discomforting, but it is the only way to truly and wholeheartedly be a part of our experiences. There are no guaranteed outcomes in being vulnerable. You might fail because you dared to show up, and that failure is what accounts for true bravery. It is that failure which really helps us learn and become stronger.
This book offers a rare and thoughtful perspective at three important areas of our lives we usually think of as mutually exclusive and independent of each other – Work, Love and our Inner Self. David Whyte argues quite poignantly and insightfully about their interconnectedness. While our main vow to marriage remains the most visible to us, he writes, we often overlook the secret vows we have to our work and to the needs of our inner selves. Each of these areas demand great dedication and hard work on our part, but we often end up doing injustice to one area at the expense of another. To separate these marriages, in order to achieve some kind of balance among them, is like going about in circles. A self-defeating cycle where happiness remains forever elusive. Whyte asks us to look at these relationships in a different light. To examine the “non-negotiable nature” of each of these marriages and bring them together in a way that is more integrative. While Whyte is no Mindfulness expert or researcher, his perspective on life as a poet and writer warrants an equal, if not greater, weight on your Mindfulness bookshelf. He explores his ideas through the lives of some famous personalities as well as his own struggles. And his book carries an inviting style of prose, that is both a pleasure to read and uniquely rewarding to the reader.
If you need more evidence, backed with hard studies, on how stress and emotional worry can affect physical health and vice versa, this book should be on your list. While many of us now take it as common knowledge that stress is bad for health, The Balance Within shows exactly how it affects us. The science behind it all. This does not mean that it is a science textbook completely filled with numbers, data and lingo that will go over your head. It is a thoughtfully written narrative addressed to a reader who is curious to know the specifics on what contributes to an unhealthy lifestyle and how we can correct the balance within. Dr Esther Sternberg is a Professor of Medicine based out of Arizona and has also authored other poignant books on the subject.
If you are curious at all about Mindfulness, picking the brain of Dr Ellen Langer should be one of your main goals in the profession. There is much to learn from one of the earliest pioneers in the field. Dr Ellen Langer is a professor of psychology who has spent over thirty-five years researching and studying Mindfulness at Harvard University. While she has written scores of books and articles on the subject, the book titled Mindfulness is one of her most comprehensive works on the subject. The book is easy to follow and understand for the casual reader, and follows Langer’s clear line of argument – that if we follow our routines and pre-wired behaviors mindlessly, we are sealing our journey to much error, pain and a set course for life. With different slices of life, she talks about how mindlessness sets in over the course of one’s years, brought about by habits and associations since our younger days of schooling and childhood. She stresses mindfulness, following process instead of outcome, as key to break those habits and form new perspectives and ideas to a better, fulfilling life.
Jon Kabat-Zinn is another pioneer on modern mindfulness whom I admire. He has researched extensively on mindfulness as an aide to medicine, and also teaches MBSR (Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction) globally. While the phrase “Wherever You Go, There You Are” is not new, Kabat-Zinn has certainly explained the idea well in the context of mindfulness. The book is based on the idea that no matter where we turn to go in search for greener pastures, we end up facing ourselves. The same problems, the same worries and the same search for a better place to go to. Mindfulness and meditation are stressed in the book as clear paths to escape this cycle, to learn how to be present in the current moment in order to find true happiness. Everything else is secondary. There you have it, five books for hibernation season. Happy holidays everyone, and let me know what you think!