Back in 2008, I knew meditation as the excruciating quiet time taken at the end of yoga class. It was the worst. Those few minutes sitting in silence were my least favourite part of the hour long session - I was much more interested in handstand, warrior 3 and crow pose! As a 22 year old, the idea of purposefully taking precious time out of my day to be still was anathema to my whole approach to life.
Later that year, perhaps unsurprisingly, I started therapy for a range of issues, that are outside of the scope of this post but include anxiety and depression. My frazzled mind and busy schedule had me on the edge. In my psychologist’s cosy office, after many sessions together she suggested we might try a little mindfulness practice… We closed our eyes and she took me through my first simple body scan. At the end of the appointment, I left with a book title scrawled onto a piece of paper - The Miracle of Mindfulness, by Thich Nhat Hanh.
This book changed the course of my life. Dramatic call, but this is obvious to me now looking back. Learning the simple art of paying attention to here and now helped me immensely as I continued to heal, and truly enriched my life. Corny as that sounds, I mean every word.
After reading that book I sought out others. Eight years on I have read and enjoyed so many different takes on mindfulness, buddhism, meditation, yoga and daily practice. The quiet time I spend meditating each morning is a key part of my life, and the investigation of what it means to live mindfully continues to intrigue me.
If you are just starting out, let me encourage you to read something more about the practice, as I was nudged to do in 2008. These 5 books are excellent introductions to the practice of meditation, and living each day with mindful intention.
The Miracle of Mindfulness ~ by Thich Nhat Hanh
“Mindfulness is like that—it is the miracle which can call back in a flash our dispersed mind and restore it to wholeness so that we can live each minute of life.”
This classic book from Vietnamese Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh offers an elegant and straightforward approach to mindfulness. The Miracle of Mindfulness is full of simple suggestions for staying mindful, based on everyday situations such as washing the dishes or waiting at a traffic light. This was the first book on mindfulness I ever read, and it was easy to understand, didn’t take long to finish and the lovely way it was written often made me smile.
The Wisdom of No Escape ~ by Pema Chodron
“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already.”
I have read and reread this book so many times, it sits on my bedside table for occasional single page reads before I drift off to sleep. Pema has such a way with words - offering heartfelt, helpful advice that speaks straight to you. Can’t recommend this highly enough. The book is based on talks given during a three month retreat at Gampo Abbey in Nova Scotia, and each chapter can be read on its own or as part of a whole. I find myself quoting this book more often than any other on my bookshelf, and have gifted it to a couple of close friends.
Wherever You Go, There You Are ~ by Jon Kabat-Zinn
“To allow ourselves to be truly in touch with where we already are, no matter where that is, we have got to pause in our experience long enough to let the present moment sink in; long enough to actually feel the present moment, to see it in its fullness, to hold it in awareness and thereby come to know and understand it better.”
Jon Kabat-Zinn pioneered the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) courses after his experiments with mindfulness for patients in the 1970s. This book gives a wonderful explanation of what mindfulness is, and how it can help us live well. It is written eloquently, explains complex things in a language that is easy to understand, and is one that I return to often for inspiration.
10% Happier ~ by Dan Harris
“Many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment…imagine living your whole life like that, where always this moment is never quite right, not good enough because you need to get to the next one. That is continuous stress.”
I really enjoyed the honest and succinct writing in this book by ABC news anchor Dan Harris. Great for the skeptics amongst us, and makes for a fantastic gift to give friends and family who might not quite understand why you enjoy sitting still and doing nothing… Dan considers the science behind mindfulness, the realities of daily practice and his experience on retreat. The book starts with Dan’s personal story - how he had a panic attack on live TV, and struggled to get through this tough time without turning to drugs and alcohol. I found the whole book really relatable and down to earth, a first hand look at why some people might try meditation and what makes them stick at it. Definitely a good book for those of you just starting out.
Buddhism Without Beliefs ~ by Stephen Batchelor
“The problem with certainty is that it is static; it can do little but endlessly reassert itself. Uncertainty, by contrast, is full of unknowns, possibilities, and risks.”
Stephen Batchelor’s work has always resonated with me - he offers a secular take on Buddhist ideas that appeal to someone brought up without religion or ritual. This is a short but fantastic introduction to the philosophy of Buddhism, that explains how these ancient concepts are still so very relevant in this day and age. No need to accept the stereotyped ideas about rebirth and karma at face value - Batchelor takes a more nuanced approach considering the core of the Buddha’s teachings. This was a real eye opener for me, and actually inspired me to read some of the original Buddhist sutras as well as more on the historical Buddha.
Reading is one of life’s true pleasures. Books have the power to open our minds, teach us new things and expand our understanding of the world. It was the recommendation of a simple book that helped me see to the benefits of meditation and mindfulness, a moment that in hindsight was a turning point for me. Since then I have read widely on the subject because it fascinates me, and because the practice has been so useful in my own life.
There are so many different books on this subject now, and the list seems to increase everyday - mindfulness for x or how to mindfully y or z. I hope these suggestions give you a good place to start, a short list of good reads for beginners. I honestly think you could pick up any one of the books listed here and come away feeling inspired. Let me know if you have any particular additions you would make to this list over on Facebook.