Six Mindful Books We’re Reading This Summer

Here’s what the editors at Mindful are reading this month. Plus, three mindful podcasts in our playlists.

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Stranger in the Mirror: The Scientific Search For the Self

Robert V. Levine Robinson

Dr. Robert V. Levine has taught psychology courses for over 50 years at California State University, Fresno, and has written and edited several books on social psychology. Given all of this study and experience, he seems like an apt person to put forward a scientific theory on what a “self” really consists of—an endeavor that produced this latest work. What, Levine asks, does science say about our search for the self, and how should it inform the ways we think about life purpose, self-improvement, mental health? Psychology, biology, neuroscience, and sociology are just a few of the fields Levine delves into, serving up cutting-edge research and case studies from each (such as the first near-total face transplant done in the US, or a person whose dissociative identity disorder gave them over 20 distinct “selves”—with only certain of the alter egos being aware of the other ones). 

So what can we expect from Levine’s fascination with this question? The self “is just a story we write—or, more precisely, are constantly rewriting,” he tells us. “When the story works, it enables us to think of ourselves as one person. It creates a sense of unity and continuity. But good storytelling should not be confused with accurate reporting. The self is not a thing. We are, in fact, ultimately undescribable.”

What, Levine asks, does science say about our search for the self, and how should it inform the ways we think about life purpose, self-improvement, mental health?

Not very satisfying, one might think. For eons already, wisdom traditions have been teaching the truth of impermanence of all things under the sun, the individual self being no exception. And any meditator will know the only constant about our sense of self is that it changes. Still, Levine manages to make the subject new, conveying the thrill of potential that exists in our own intangibility. 

Reboot: Leadership and the Art of Growing Up

Jerry Colonna Harper Business

The moniker venture capitalist doesn’t usually generate warm, fuzzy feelings. You might think “money-obsessed know-it-all.” But for Jerry Colonna, money is not the big motivator. His experience tells him that anyone who aspires to great things will face challenges that test inner resolve. That’s why Reboot focuses on “radical self-inquiry”: looking in places we don’t want to look, where we get stuck in a quagmire of fears, doubts, and self-criticisms. When we can look in those places—using the stability gained through contemplative practice—it can cultivate inner strength to take on the inevitable obstacles on the path to realizing our deepest aspirations.

Hark 

Sam Lipsyte Simon & Schuster

In this amusing novel, Sam Lipsyte throws you into an all-too-recognizable world of desperate inequality, unceasing conflict, and unshakeable dissatisfaction, where the only hope for the future is Mental Archery: a “new” spiritual path that’s part New-Age lore, part yoga postures, part fake history. Failed stand-up comic Hark Morner rises to fame and wealth as its guru, but his motley bunch of apostles have bigger plans for Mental Archery than he can possibly deliver on. Each of these would-be heroes is consumed by ideology and nihilism alike. Yet along with his acerbic humor, Lipsyte conveys a buoying belief in belief itself: the unifying potential of ideas and of hope, not just as things to be bought and sold, but as what might actually save us.

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy: Embodied Presence & Inquiry in Practice

Susan Woods, Patricia Rockman, and Evan Collins New Harbinger

When three mood-disorder researchers (John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, and Mark Williams) collaborated in the early 90s to marry Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to mindfulness practices, they created a hybrid greater than the sum of its parts. MBCT  doesn’t simply overlay meditation on CBT’s challenging of habitual thought patterns. It emphasizes going beyond manipulating thoughts to becoming intimately aware of our automatic patterns—trusting that repeated non-judgmental appraisal of these patterns can inspire us to disrupt repetitive thinking. 

In this book, three clinicians who have been teaching MBCT for nearly as long as it has existed (and who also train others to teach MBCT) lift up the hood on this relatively new and powerful vehicle. They do so in order to guide would-be practitioners—particularly those who facilitate MBCT courses—in the nuances of how MBCT works when it’s done well. 

Two major themes rise to the surface. The first is that to facilitate MBCT requires embodying the practice. One of MBCT’s founders, Zindel Segal, who wrote the foreword to this book, has repeatedly emphasized that mindfulness is a skill. As such, it must be modeled and demonstrated for others. MBCT is not about getting high on insights; it’s about learning how to ride and redirect our mind and emotions.

MBCT is not about getting high on insights; it’s about learning how to ride and redirect our mind and emotions.

The second major theme is that inquiry practice—essentially prompting us to explore and describe experience—is the powerhouse at the heart of MBCT, and it emerges as a “contemplative dialogue.” The book offers a master class in this powerful form of dialogue, which has been extremely helpful for countless people working with anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.

Put Your Worries Here: A Creative Journal for Teens with Anxiety

Lisa M. Schab, LCSW  Instant Health Books

Anxiety often goes hand-in-hand with navigating the teenage years. Academic stress, home life, relationships, sexuality, emotional and physical changes—it seems like there are endless sources of worry. Based on the principles of cognitive behavioral therapy and mindfulness, Put Your Worries Here offers a safe and welcoming place for teens to manage these anxious thoughts and feelings. With 100 written and visual journaling prompts, it speaks directly to teens (“Create a playlist of the songs that help you de-stress. Write the best lyrics here.”), and lets them discover their own best way of expressing and working with difficult emotions.  

A Mind at Home with Itself

Byron Katie, with Stephen Mitchell HarperOne

The popular self-help visionary Byron Katie goes by a surname that’s a common first name. She is simply Katie, like Lebron is Lebron and Prince was Prince. Simple yet complicated, as is the system she teaches the world over, which is “the revolutionary process called ‘the work.’”

You don’t need a secret initiation to uncover what “the work” is. It’s right there, in four questions: 1. Is it true?; 2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?; 3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?; 4. Who would you be without that thought?

Beneath that simplicity is a minefield of fundamental questions. In person, Katie is playful, humorous, both direct and elusive. On the page, with the aid of co-writer and husband Stephen Mitchell, she seems a little more philosophical and speculative. But the strongest sections of A Mind at Home with Itself are transcripts of Katie carrying on the inquiry process with a range of people going through widely varying challenges. 

And herein lies the popularity of Katie’s work: the enduring power of inquiry. The Socratic method of continually inquiring of a thing whether it’s true and what consequences emerge from that is alive and well, and even though this book is largely dedicated to a Buddhist sutra, it’s reminiscent of the mindfulness of an ancient Greek.

Podcast Review

The Fatherly Podcast

Episode: Searching for Peace and Quiet

When we find ourselves responsible for others’ well-being, there’s the opportunity for our mindfulness practice to be transformed. That is, if we—as parents or caregivers of any nature—can even find time to meditate. And if we can withstand the pressures of being imperfect people who are, nevertheless, relied upon to provide help and solutions. We can, in these kinds of situations, “practice not knowing right now. Learn from it, don’t separate from it.” Author and Buddhist teacher Joan Halifax talks with humor and wisdom about specific ways to bring a grounded awareness into all of our interactions as compassionate, ethical caregivers. 

The Hidden Brain

Episode: Why No One Feels Rich — The Psychology of Inequality

How we think about inequality matters. Psychologist Keith Payne reports that, all the way up the income ladder, even the wealthiest 1% compare themselves unfavorably to still-wealthier others. Why? It’s a survival tactic, enhanced by life under capitalism. In moderation, “upward” social comparison can be adaptive, motivating us to work hard to earn more—and conversely, “downward” social comparisons can make us feel like our own rung on the ladder is A-OK after all, which may be demotivating. Our brains are never sure whether we truly have “enough.” If we’re aware of these mental habits, says Payne, “we can be more mindful about the kinds of comparisons we’re making on a daily basis.”

the Kindness Podcast

Episode: “Everyday Generosity” — Drew Formsma

How many seventeen-year-olds spend their free time doing motivational speaking on the power of generosity? One, at least. That’s Drew Formsma, a Californian teen with a passion for giving. Drew talks to host Nicole Philips about his book (written with his dad, Brad) Everyday Generosity: Becoming a Generous Family in a Selfie World, which aims to inspire all manner of giving, from a kind word to our full attention. “A lot of times, when you give, it’s easy to expect something out of it,” Drew says. “But it’s not about us; it’s about the person we’re giving to.”

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