The Best Mindfulness Books This Year

Founding editor Barry Boyce reviews the standout books we shared in Mindful magazine this year.

Marina Zlochin/Adobe Stock

As founding editor of Mindful, I have the honor of receiving and reviewing hundreds of books over the course of a year. After careful review, only a handful make it into the pages of the magazine. Here are nine books that stand out as being my favorite this year:

1. Meditation Is Not What You Think: Mindfulness and Why It Is So Important 
By Jon Kabat-Zinn, Hachette

In 2005, Jon Kabat-Zinn published his magnum opus, Coming to Our Senses. At 650 pages and years in the making, it was a monumental achievement. It allowed the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction to put his life’s work in a larger context. Mindfulness is not a mental trick, an adjunct to regular life. It’s a basic human inheritance that is essential to life. We need to be optimally aware of who we are, where we are, how we are, if we are to survive individually and as communities, and even as a species in Kabat-Zinn’s view. The book amounted to a bold call for us all to quite literally “come to our senses,” to as often as possible experience where we are and what is going on within and around us—and to take up practices that cultivate our ability to do so.

Now Hachette has decided to reissue the book as four separate small books, starting with Meditation Is Not What You Think: Mindfulness and Why It Is So Important, followed by Falling Awake: How to Practice Mindfulness in Everyday Life, both of which are available now. The third and fourth books will come out late this year and early next.

While the books overall are thick with references to and examples from science, literature, poetry, political thought, and more, the whole is presented in digestible chapters, which is almost certainly the best way to read these books, since trying to rip through them leaves not enough time to reflect and take in what you’ve read. They’re like a box of fine chocolates. Eaten and savored one chapter at a time, they bring delight. If one eats half the box in one sitting, it may lead to indigestion.

2. Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster
 By Linda Graham, New World Library

Missing your bus, dropping dinner on the floor, screwing up at work: These everyday hiccups may fluster, frustrate, or at times even tax your coping system, but they don’t usually knock you down, writes Linda Graham. It’s the bigger distresses, such as illness, death, or loss of security—particularly if they come one after another, pile on top of unresolved trauma, or include a heap of self-criticism—that can threaten to overwhelm us to the point of “falling apart and not being able to recover.” 

That’s where resilience comes in. The newest buzzword in psychological circles, resilienceindicates our ability to recover from adversity. And after rigorous study, it’s also now believed to be the greatest indicator of one’s personal happiness and ability to thrive throughout life. 

In this easy-to-read and hugely informative guide, Graham explains the neuroscience of resilience (spoiler alert: Our early influences shape our future coping skills) and how we can continue to develop it throughout our lives. 

It’s this last bit—our ability to override old neural patterns, create new ones, and strengthen our minds and bodies to withstand the inevitable hits in any life—that makes this already useful book priceless. Graham combs the research and her own trove of best practices to explain how anyone can become more resilient, no matter where they start from. Through practices that build somatic, emotional, relational, and reflective intelligence, she demonstrates how the mantra of “little and often”—small experiences repeated many times—is the best way to create new habits; undo the effects of negative, harmful, or traumatic experiences; and strengthen your inner reserves.

3. The Mindful Day: Practical Ways to Find Focus, Calm, and Joy from Morning to Evening
 By Laurie J. Cameron, National Geographic

This book is chockablock with advice and instruction: Its five chapters contain 50 sections in all. The book starts your day with what you do at home in the morning, then it takes you to work and play and love, and then back home again. So, you start with showering and breakfasting mindfully; continue with leading mindful meetings, starting tough conversations, and banishing multitasking; go on to engaging your life and love with curiosity; and land back at home to savor your day and ease into sleep. Hard to imagine anyone being quite this mindful, but for those of us who aspire, this is an easy-to-follow handy guidebook.

4. Mindful of Race: Transforming Racism from the Inside Out
 By Ruth King, Sounds True

Long-overdue discussions around race in America are finally having a moment—one that needs to last a very long time. The Netflix series Dear White People recently released its second season, as did Donald Glover’s Atlanta on FX. Both were created by young African-Americans who have a lot to say, and unique and hard-hitting ways of putting problems of whiteness front and center.

The “post-racial America” illusionary bubble has been burst. Put simply, to imagine we are (or even aspire to be) color-blind is just to be blind to reality. So, where is mindfulness in all this? Is the spread of this practice, touted as something truly transformational, making a dent anywhere in our understanding and our race relations? If Ruth King has her way, it will. With Mindful of Race, King joins other voices demanding contemporary mindfulness practice go beyond being another luxury of the privileged to become something that enables us to explore deep habits together in ways that effect real change.

King calls racism a “heart disease” that can go unnoticed and untreated for a long time. In response, she developed a three-and-a-half-day program with the same name as the book that “brings mindful inquiry to an examination of racial conditioning and social distress.” She unfolds her training on the page in three phases: In Diagnosis, we uncover “the narrative we hold along racial lines”; in Mindfulness—Heart Surgery, meditation practice helps us investigate deeply while “softening the grip of the tension” from emotions triggered by going to rarely explored places; and Recovery is about how we can spread understanding, caring, and equanimity about race from our inner circle to the bigger circles in the world.