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How We Work

Live Your Purpose, Reclaim Your Sanity, and Embrace the Daily Grind

Leah Weiss • Harper Wave

Let’s face it: Work is broken. Despite numerous attempts to rejigger and modernize and open up the workplace, in the opinion of Leah Weiss—who teaches “Leading with Mindfulness and Compassion” at the Stanford Graduate School of Business—most people work in a toxic environment.

She’s not talking about sick building syndrome, though plenty of people still work in buildings cut off from the natural world with bad air, bad lighting, and bad building materials. She’s talking about working hours that stretch out of all recognition, the added ability to field communications at any place or time, and few if any doses of serious downtime to recharge. Weiss cites a study that shows that, in 2015, less than half of workers who received paid vacation days used all or most of them and that 44% of respondents said their job “negatively affected their overall health,” while 40% said it negatively affected family life, weight, and sleep.

Chief among our problems is a mindset that creates a false dichotomy between “work” and “life,” causing us to expect life to make up for the damage done at work, when in fact what we need to do, individually and collectively, is learn how to live better at work and everyplace else. We need to transform the workplace and reclaim our lives by learning to pay more consistent attention to how we feel. As the tried and true mindfulness question goes: What is happening right now? If we keep up this kind of investigation, Weiss contends, change will happen. And leaders need to step up and take the initiative to create workplaces that value how people really feel.

Be Mindful & Stress Less

50 Ways to Deal with Your (Crazy) Life

Gina M. Biegel • Shambhala Publications

With mindfulness being taught in an increasing number of schools, many students are learning how mindful practices can help them deal with busy school days, high expectations, relationships, and the omnipresence of social media. Biegel, a psychotherapist and the creator of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Teens, knows the aspects of mindfulness most useful for young people, and this book lays these out clearly. Without talking down to anyone, Biegel identifies simple actions that young people can take for self-care, easing anxiety, and cultivating more ease. This book will help in the vital work of empowering teens to improve their own wellness.

The Green Burial Guidebook 

Everything You Need to Plan an Affordable, Environmentally Friendly Burial

Elizabeth Fournier • New World Library

It’s long been known that the modern way of death is deeply flawed. The funeral-home-run operations—the retail setting, the extremely costly coffins, embalming practices, burials, and even cremations (which require extreme levels of energy)—“not only fail to provide a satisfying ritual for mourning,” says Elizabeth Fournier, but they also leave behind a “lasting financial and ecological burden.” The seventh generation of morticians in her family, Fournier is a convert to green burials. She offers here everything you need to know about this new and growing set of practices.

Breathe

Inês Castel-Branco • Magination Press

Breathe tells the story of a young boy who is nervous and struggling to sleep. His mother guides him with imaginative breathing exercises to explore lung capacity, as well as some animal-based yoga stretches. With practice, the child discovers how these tools can rob fear and sadness of their power to keep us awake at night. This book speaks to children with the confidence that they can understand how and why attention to our breath is so powerful.

Here We Grow

Mindfulness Through Cancer and Beyond

Paige Davis • She Writes Press

Four years ago Paige Davis received a diagnosis every woman dreads: breast cancer. At just 38 years old, and long committed to healthy living, she was devastated—but in a way, she writes in this encouraging new memoir, she’d “been in training for this” for her entire life. From her teens on she’d been exploring the body–mind relationship, leading, among other things, to a daily meditation practice.

Over the whirlwind year that includes a double mastectomy, a harrowing bout of chemotherapy, and breast reconstruction, Davis turns again and again to the breath, accessing the well of inner stillness that exists in even the most uncomfortable moments. It’s a powerful reminder of how presence can shift any experience into one of learning—and growth.

Relational Mindfulness 

A Handbook for Deepening our Connection with Ourselves, Each Other, and the Planet

Deborah Eden Tull • Wisdom Publications

Deborah Eden Tull grew up in a progressive community of artists and activists, whose motivations contrasted starkly with her Los Angeles surroundings. Yet even in this change-oriented environment, she couldn’t help feeling that more was needed in order to effectively address our most pernicious human problems: from personal fear, pride, and stress to social inequality, bigotry, and profit-driven destruction of nature.

Tull’s drive to cultivate greater peace and happiness led her at age 26 to Zen Buddhism, where she found meditation to be “a direct means for softening our obsession with productivity and returning us instead to a more vast presence of being.”

Through years of monastic practice (which she later left to teach and practice in society), she learned that the social good is served by moving toward what she calls “we consciousness,” and that this shift is innately a mindful one. Gently, lovingly, she shows how bringing mindfulness to how we show up for ourselves, our dear ones, and our wider communities creates the clarity to live with wisdom and compassion in trying and isolating times. Relational mindfulness, Tull describes, is the antidote to our illusion of separateness—which “fuels a way of life that is unsustainable both personally and globally. Every seed of violence in our world—war, social injustice, planetary abuse, and any ism—stems from the seed of this illusion.”

This book doesn’t promote an intellectual grasp of what mindfulness is and does, nor is any kind of religious belief indis-pensible to its premise. What it accomplishes is a thoughtful, piece-by-piece consideration of the issues caused by our deeply limited conditioning, by our misperceptions about the world and ourselves—and how we’re capable of realizing our interconnectedness more deeply through relationships. It can be read in a group with shared intention, with a partner, or by oneself. What matters is that we take its compassionate message to heart. In the words of another spiritual teacher and activist, angel Kyodo williams, “Love and justice are not two. Without inner change, there can be no outer change; without collective change, no change matters.”

First, We Make the Beast Beautiful 

A New Journey Through Anxiety

Sarah Wilson • Dey Street Books

Sarah Wilson, also the creator of I Quit Sugar, hits a beautiful balance in this book between deep reflection and down-to-earth advice for thriving with anxiety and related conditions. A far cry from the bedside manner-y tone common to self-help, Wilson’s warmth and humor will quickly win you over (example: frank talk about her finding that meditation retreats can bring constipation relief). The only deficiency is in the neuroscience, which leans on debunked theories involving the “reptilian” or “old vs. new” brain regions. These inaccuracies are small, however, beside her sound recommendations: from anxiety-proofing your diet to making your bed every day to finding clues in mental illness that evolve the way you care for yourself.

Make a List

How a Simple Practice Can Change Our Lives and Open Our Hearts

Marilyn McEntyre • Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing

What could be simpler, what could be more elegant than making a list? And lists have a great pedigree: the to-do list, the shopping list, the laundry list, the top forty, the Bill of Rights. Lists persist because they work: A review of the efficacy of checklists in hospitals showed that the lists improved patient safety with no reported negative effects. We forget stuff. It’s good to have a list. This book offers ample fun (and insight), and it starts out with a great list: reasons to make a list. Just two reasons out of nineteen are to discover subtle layers of feeling and to connect the dots. Sold.

Podcasts

Invisibilia 

Episode: Pt.I: Emotions / Pt.II: High Voltage

This wonderful if offbeat podcast (its title is Latin for “invisible things”) fuses science with narrative storytelling. These episodes investigate psychologist Dr. Lisa Feldman Barrett’s case that how we conceptualize (and deal with) emotions is totally backward: “Emotions aren’t a reaction to the world; they actually construct the world.” This is weighed against some true, truly weird stories: Traumatized by a car crash, a man sues who he crashed into—the parents of the child he killed (!). An anthropologist discovers a “new” emotion among a head-hunting tribe in the Philippines. And a woman struggles to find love, due to a seemingly involuntary reflex.

Quirks & Quarks

Episode: Friends share more than interests. Their brains are similar, too

Dr. Carolyn Parkinson, a psychological researcher at UCLA, led a study that interviewed 300 students to learn the degrees of friendship or distance they had to others within the group. Then, students watched an assortment of video clips while the researchers took fMRI scans of their brains. It turned out that how close the students were to one another could be predicted by the similarity of their neural responses to the videos. This leaves open the question of whether we gravitate toward others who already see and process the world similarly, or if we become friends first and, through unknown mechanisms, our mental patterns converge over time.

Freakonomics Radio 

Episode: Here’s Why All Your Projects Are Always Late—and What to Do About It

Why do we procrastinate—and why, nevertheless, can we always convince ourselves that we won’t next time? Experts weigh in, from psychology and neuroscience to software design and New York City’s Second Avenue subway that took 50 years to start building. We fall victim to the planning fallacy, which involves our “optimism bias”—believing the grass is greener in the future—and the fact that most of us don’t love data integration. The key to more accurate expectations? “Use data instead of human judgment.” Artificial intelligence: 1; people: 0.

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