Mindful Books and Podcasts to Ring in the New Year

From cultivating courage and vulnerability to reducing anxiety and the reign of mind over body, The Mindful Editors bring you this season’s best mindful books and podcasts.

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The Little Book of Being 
Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness
Diana Winston Sounds True

It’s no small thing to take on the responsibility of teaching others how to work with their minds, no less teaching teachers to do that. (It’s not like teaching, say, tennis; it’s the mind, after all. Nothing is subtler or more elusive). A meditator since she was a teenager, a meditation teacher for decades, and a teacher of teachers for quite a while, Diana Winston—director of mindfulness education at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center—writes from direct experience. She works with her own mind, while also encountering the challenge of new meditation students and those who aspire to teach others how to practice meditation and incorporate it into their lives. 

What she has learned in all those years comes through in The Little Book of Being, which focuses on “uncovering your natural awareness.” So often today in the era of popular mindfulness, what works best as a lifelong pursuit, a life-giving ritual, is touted rather as a fix-it project that brings instant relief.

At a critical point in her life, Winston says, she realized, “It’s time for me to relax, stop trying so hard, and recognize the natural awareness and goodness already inherent in my being—and in all beings. It was time to simply rest in awareness itself.” Highfalutin words, but Winston shows how to adopt relatively simple practices that allow one to gradually move from a more effortful approach to mindfulness to one that doesn’t consume so much energy, that has faith and conviction that we’re already aware and don’t need to be fixed.

This viewpoint alone allows us to stumble more easily on the kind of childlike mind that can simply appreciate the next thing in front of us: whether it’s as small as a ladybug, or as serious as someone telling us how much they hurt.

Notes on a Nervous Planet
Matt Haig Penguin Books

When he was in his 20s, writer Matt Haig struggled with suicidal depression—a struggle on which he’s already written a great deal. The decades since have found him painstakingly researching and adopting personal health habits that have kept the worst anxiety (mostly) at bay. Yet when a familiar sense of despair starts to creep back up, he’s forced to face the external influences threatening his—all of our—well-being. The result is this gem of a book. In short, smart chapters, Haig’s sometimes humorous and often fascinating musings explore the unprecedented technological changes we’ve witnessed, and clear-headed ways to respond to their influence on our collective mental health.  

Bodyfulness
Somatic Practices for Presence, Empowerment, and Waking Up in This Life
Christine Caldwell, PhD Shambhala Publications

“It takes audacity to coin a new word in the English language,” writes mindfulness teacher David Rome in the introduction to Christine Caldwell’s Bodyfulness. “Bodyfulness,” he continues, “overcomes the bias toward the mental, while at the same time, extending and greatly enriching the signification of mindfulness itself.” 

In her quest, Caldwell, a longtime somatic counselor, builds the theoretical and anatomical foundation for explaining the body’s role as a natural vehicle for contemplation. She then guides us through somatic practices of breathing, sensing, and moving, so that “we can feel and express directly, creating a powerful and direct locating of ourselves”—a wordy, yet deceptively simple way into the present moment.

Seven Practices of a Mindful Leader
Lessons From Google and a Zen Monastery Kitchen 
Marc Lesser New World Library

When Google began its Search Inside Yourself program, it invited Zen teacher Norman Fischer to address its first cadre of teachers. He didn’t actually know he was scheduled to speak (Google can be “spontaneous”). He quickly jotted down seven principles for teaching mindfulness. Marc Lesser, cofounder of Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, embraced the principles. He’s used them as a guide, he says, for the “culture I wanted to create within the organization, for how I wanted to teach leadership, for how I wanted to show up as a leader, and for how I wanted to live my life.” Those principles are the backbone of this clearly articulated, practical, and helpful book.

A Walk in the Wood
Meditations on Mindfulness with a Bear Named Pooh
Dr. Joseph Parent and Nancy Parent Disney Editions

Mindfulness isn’t complicated—its actions are, in fact, quite simple. Training ourselves to do them is the hard part. To help us in this task, Joseph and Nancy Parent have framed mindfulness about as simply as you can, in the language and landscape of everyone’s favorite fictional (and very sage) bear: Winnie the Pooh. As Pooh and Co. go about their day, they bask in the moment, enjoy simple pleasures, feel grateful for their lives, and do other mindful activities. Perhaps this one lesson will make it easier for all of us, no matter what season of life we’re in, to make a habit of mindfulness: Just be like Pooh.

Podcasts

The Ezra Klein Show
Episode: Your attention is being hijacked. Chris Bailey can help. 

Productivity, for many, means trying to wring every last drop of work out of ourselves, day after day. And this desperate need to “keep busy” can also prevent us from mindfully directing our attention. But that’s precisely Chris Bailey’s mission: The author of Hyperfocus is on a mission to shift productivity culture toward, instead, “doing the right things…deliberately and with intention.” Bailey argues that taking a more mindful approach to work is how we can sustain our focus and creative juice long-term.

Modern Love
Episode: How to Break Up with a 2-Year-Old 

Parting ways from a short-lived romance is supposed to be heartbreaking (says every drama, ever). This autobiographical story, however, looks at such a parting from a less glorified angle: having to say goodbye to your ex’s child, after you’ve come to love them so much, they might as well be your own. Writer Laurie Sandell’s deeply touching bond with a girl too young to speak offered revelations about herself—and her life’s trajectory—that she couldn’t have found alone.

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