Whether you’re just venturing out onto the mindful path or walking a well-worn road, these top books for mindful living will light up your heart and guide your way.
I don’t think I ever intentionally started down the mindful path. I’m what you might call an accidental mindful practitioner.
It all started when people began sending me articles from elephant journal. They’d tell me, “This is so you!” Or, they’d drop a note saying, “Thought of you when I read this one.” I had never heard of this mindful living website. I had never heard about the mindful movement. Hell, I don’t even think I could have given you a decent definition of mindful; but, as I began reading, I realized there were other people like me out there and this is one of the places they gathered—virtually anyway.
So what is mindfulness? Is it about doing yoga and eating kale? Maybe.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, mindfulness is defined as: the quality or state of being conscious or aware of something.
This doesn’t leave a beginner with much to go on.
Since I didn’t realize I was embracing a movement, I didn’t know that I was even on a journey; however, the books I chose to read gave me away—maybe not to myself as I was buried in them! And, since I was an accidental mindfulness student, I chose books based on the lens I was using to see the world.
The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
After asking herself, “What do I want from life, anyway?” Rubin answered, “I want to be happy.” The result of this declaration becomes an entire year dedicated to “The Happiness Project.” Each month, Rubin tackles a different element related to happiness. In October, she dedicates herself to paying attention, or mindfulness. Rubin gets in touch with the many benefits of mindfulness—including happiness—while struggling to create a successful meditation practice.
For me, this brings to mind the reality that I can be a champion of the mindfulness movement without being a superstar in all the elements that support it.
Gross, the former New York Times Frugal Traveler who later wrote their “Getting Lost” column turned wandering into a full-time career. His debut travelogue breaks away from the constraints of mass tourism and allows the place to serve as the guide. Gross urges readers to put down the maps, the brochures and even technology to explore. Since travel is one of the few purchases that make a person richer, it seems only natural to tune in while on the road.
As someone whose passion is the art of authentic travel, I appreciated the traveler vs. tourist debate featured in this book. For a tourist, travel is what happens while on vacation. A traveler is more willing to go off the beaten path and connect with locals. As travelers we are more mindful and appreciative of our journey and the people we meet along the way.
Improv Wisdom: Don’t Prepare, Just Show Up by Patricia Ryan Madson
As a seasoned teacher and improviser, Madson invites readers to lighten up and enjoy the ride. After all, we improvise every day, as life is unscripted! In this delightful read, Madson reveals the 13 maxims of improvisational theater and how they relate to real life. In the ninth maxim, Madson invites us to “pay attention.” She includes exercises to cultivate awareness. When our attention is aligned with our actions, we achieve a state of mindfulness.
Although I’ve been improvising for more than 10 years, I still struggle with this; however, like yoga, improv is a practice and I will remain a faithful student.
The Longest Way Home: One Man’s Quest for the Courage to Settle Down by Andrew McCarthy
The 80s teen heartthrob is now a seasoned, award-winning travel writer. At first glance, this appears to be an armchair travel read; but, this is actually an intimate memoir of self-discovery as McCarthy travels the world unable to commit to his fiancée of nearly four years. In the end, it proves to be a love letter to the woman who becomes his wife.
There were so many elements of this book that touched me. The most compelling piece is the gift McCarthy gives to himself—permission to tune out the noise of daily life and tune in to his honest feelings instead of doing what’s expected. Because of the mindfulness he directs toward himself, McCarthy is better able to successfully embrace the role of husband and father. Like McCarthy, having a better awareness of myself has helped me navigate my second marriage.
How to Be Happier Day by Day: A Year of Mindful Actions by Alan Epstein, Ph.D.
Finally, a book with “mindful” in the title! Epstein presents 365 mindful actions that range from simple, to challenging, to just plain bizarre. What they all have in common is an invitation for the reader to become immersed in the moment and emerge happier.
This is a book I keep next to the bed so I can refer to the actions over and over again. Today I was invited to pamper my body, so I went to a yoga class at lunchtime. I explored stretching and other ways my body can feel better through yoga. And guess what? It worked!
An interesting note about books is that they’re listed in the order that I read them. Notice that my journey started by reading a book about happiness. By the time I picked up Epstein’s book, I knew what I was doing had a name—mindful living. I also knew that it’s so closely linked to happiness as Rubin touched on in my first read. Noting this trend, I now subscribe to Live Happy and Mindful magazines.
By keeping ourselves surrounded by language of mindfulness, we continue to set (and reset) or intentions for the most mindful life we can live.
[image: via Nathan O’Nions on flickr]