Mindful Books to Read This Winter

Three books and podcasts to enjoy as the weather gets colder.

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Widen the Window: Training Your Brain and Body to Thrive during Stress and Recover from Trauma

Elizabeth A. Stanley Avery

Liz Stanley—a graduate of Yale, Harvard, and MIT; a retired military officer; and an associate professor of security studies at Georgetown University—readily admits to operating in overdrive. Early in Widen the Window, she lets us know that a Stanley has served “in the US Army every generation since the Revolutionary War, including on both sides of the American Civil War.” Her experiences in the army, including sexual harassment, led to a diagnosis of PTSD.

Apparently resilient “as our society usually understands it” (i.e., “capable of tolerating and functioning through an immense amount of stress”), she was actually just “sucking it up and driving on,” which results in “tremendous achievement and success…until it doesn’t anymore.” Mindfulness and loving-kindness helped her see the possibility of working in extreme situations without ignoring what’s going on with our central nervous system, inspiring her to formulate training that focused on the main asset in any organization: a fully functioning human being. In developing Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training, she emphasized that military personnel needed it pre-deployment, not just to clean up psychophysical messes after the fact. A strong component of bodily awareness was needed, too, so she learned Somatic Experiencing and incorporated it into the program, which lasted several years and was taught to thousands of people, producing positive research results.

Widen the Window is a comprehensive overview of stress and trauma, responses to it, and tools for healing and thriving. It’s not only for those in high-intensity work, but for everyone: We’re all exposed to a culture that asks us to barrel ahead oblivious to what’s going on in our brains and bodies, no matter how damaging.

How to Stop Losing Your Sh*t with Your Kids: A Practical Guide to Becoming
a Calmer, Happier Parent

Carla Naumberg Workman Publishing

Part of what’s refreshing about Carla Naumberg’s work is that she isn’t out to pretend parenting is a walk in the park. Of raising her own three children, she quips, “Bear in mind, I have a PhD in clinical social work, and I was reduced to Googling that shit.” Throughout the chapters, from “How I Stopped Losing My Shit (Quite So Often)” to “After the Shitstorm Has Passed,” she emphasizes that the key is not maintaining an iron grip on your offspring but rather knowing what presses your parental buttons and focusing on tiny, practical ways you can shift to stay on a more even keel. What’s also refreshing is her voice, which comes through as compassionate, witty, wise, and (no shit!) a little profane. 

Creating Mindful Leaders: How to Power Up, Power Down, and Power Forward

Joe Burton Wiley

With a list of leadership positions and industries as long as your arm, Joe Burton is clearly someone who has led a busy, and very accomplished, life. Somewhere in the middle of all that, while trying to be a good spouse and parent as well, he “discovered mindfulness as a super-stressed-out executive after dismissing it as ‘definitely not for me.’” Before too long, he decided not only to take up mindfulness but also to make it the centerpiece of his career, founding Whil, a “digital well-being training platform.” Its Creating Mindful Leaders Workshop forms the basis for this book, which is playful while also backed by solid evidence. It’s chock full of enjoyable illustrations, charts, diagrams, boxes of advice, and practices. A very hands-on introduction to bringing mindfulness into a high-performance culture. 

Podcast Reviews

Emotional Badass with Nikki Eisenhauer

Episode: The Power of a Healing Goodbye

Parting ways with someone you’ve grown close to can feel overwhelming. “Most of us get a little tense, a little sad,” says therapist Nikki Eisenhauer. “We don’t quite know how to deal with them.” With warm understanding, Eisenhauer explains why goodbyes matter in the context of therapists with clients: It offers a chance for each party to come to terms with “all that has happened over the course of our therapeutic relationship… It seals up our work and gives us a healthy ‘you are ready to go, and you don’t need me anymore.’”

Think Again

Episode: World Makes Mind, with Barbara Tversky

For over five decades, cognitive psychologist and professor Barbara Tversky’s work has illuminated ways of knowing—and not knowing. Her late husband Amos helped uncover the reason for “blind spots” in cognition, but Tversky is no less of a giant in visual–spatial reasoning and collaborative cognition. Delving into the brain’s chessboard-like way of organizing data, and how basketball players signal to teammates while fooling the other team, she emphasizes our behavioral potential: “This idea that we’re one thing? No way. We’re always intention and conflict, cooperation and competition. They’re all in us.” After listening to this conversation, Tversky’s new book, Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought (Basic Books, 2019), might be a good next stop. 

Meditative Story

Episode: The Perfect Photograph I Never Took

Back in 1994, photojournalist John Moore traveled to the Congo, hoping to capture the elusive silverback mountain gorilla. The strongest pictures, he says, “are often a combination of preparedness and luck.” Without a lot of both, “the image never finds its way into your camera.” Yet despite the low odds, he can’t suppress a romantic goal: the perfect image of a magnificent wild being. What results is truly a message for the Instagram age. In the second half of the podcast, host Rohan Gunatillake narrates a guided meditation to reflect on Moore’s narrative.