Books 1.

Thich Nhat Hahn, Making Space

making space

This simple, inexpensive, book is a perfect place to start for someone beginning meditation. It is a practical guide as to how to make your home and your life a more consciously aware place. It is gentle and encouraging, with perhaps more of an emphasis on “why to”, but still valuable for that. It has a nice section on creating a meditation space in the home,  chapters on listening to a bell, sitting, breathing, and walking meditations, as well as how to cook and eat a meal in mindfulness. It is full of the simple poems and sayings which have become associated with Thich Nhat Hahn’s writings – “I have arrived, I am Home” – and the overall effect is to create a retreat-like atmosphere for home life. A very nice book for beginners as well as a companion for those who have been practicing for a while

Joseph Emet, Buddha’s Book of Sleep.

There are a lot of books out there applying mindfulness to different problem areas is life, and – not having any problems with sleep – I cannot comment on this book as a means of getting better sleep in seven weeks, as the sub-title promises. However, I can comment on it as an excellently written clear description of mindfulness practices, which are scattered throughout the different chapters focusing on sleep

Joseph Emet  is an expert but gentle teacher of mindfulness meditation.  The book is divided in two, the first part covering all the basics in a simple straightforward way, teaching how a busy mind and negative thoughts affect our day and our sleeping at night. It looks at ways of working with anger and difficult emotions and looks at the underlying foundations beneath mindfulness practice. The second part of the book outlines practices, designed to be learnt and applied over seven weeks. These are taught in a step-by-step manner, in a style that clearly is indebted to his teacher Thich Nhat Hahn. Because of this,  the book gives a very good overall introduction to mindfulness practice in a general sense, while all the time applying it to the search for restful sleep. I really liked the style and the content, as the words of a gifted teacher shine through.

Thich Nhat Hahn, The Long Road Turns to Joy

This simple book by Thich Nhat Hanh is a delight. It is true that it focuses on teaching Walking Meditation. However, it uses walking as a way of touching into the happiness that is already all around us. It slows us down so that we can see. It is written in short chapters and really is a philosophy of life, not just walking. Even in this world when we frequently use cars and public transport we still have to walk. This book allows us to use each step as a way of discovering the richness of the world and the depth inside ourselves.

We walk slowly, in a relaxed way, keeping a light smile on our lips. When we practice this way, we feel deeply at ease, and our steps are those of the most secure person on Earth.

Jeffrey Brantley, Calming your Anxious Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion can free you from Anxiety, Fear and Panic.

Jeffrey Brantley is the director of the Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction program at the Duke Center for Integrative Medicine. He has a lovely clear way of writing about meditation practice and the practical steps needed to establishing a meditation habit. It focuses on how mindfulness helps with the range of anxiety disorders, such as Generalized Anxiety and Panic. His style is very gentle and warm and reflects his many years of personal mediation practice. This is one of the nicest introductions to developing a meditation practice and working with anxious thoughts.

Mark Williams, John Teasdale, Zindel Segal, Jon Kabat Zinn, The Mindful Way through Depression

Some books are focused on meditation, some on the broader notion of “mindfulness” and some books are based on the 8 week MBSR programme which is a way of developing a meditation practice and starting on the road to a more mindful life.  For instance, this excellent book, written by four of the leading researcher/practitioners in mindfulness as a health intervention, is a self-directed programme, loosely based on the 8 weeks MBSR Programme, with CD, for those who suffer from depression. However, its title is deceptive because is also one of the best overall introductions to mindfulness practice and can help all of us who have up’s and down’s in mood from time to time. It is written in a very clear style and the accompanying CD takes the reader through the different exercises outlined in each chapter. It is radical in its approach –  firmly outlining the approach strategy which is at the heart of mindfulness practice: rather than avoiding what is unpleasant or difficult even something like depression  we practice turning towards it:

In other words nothing we do when we start to go down seems to help because trying to get rid of depression, in the usual problem-solving way, trying to “fix” what is “wrong with us, just digs us deeper. The 3.00 A.M. obsessing over the state of our lives…. the self-criticism for our “weakness”….the desperate attempts to talk our hearts and bodies out of feeling the way they do – all are mental gyrations that lead nowhere but further down.

Sharon Salzberg: Real Happiness

This is a really excellent book on learning how to meditate and highly recommended. Sharon Salzberg,  one of the leading Buddhist teachers in the United States and co-founder of the Insight Meditation Centre in Barre, Massachusetts, has written here one of the best introductions to meditation as well as an easy-to-grasp introduction to the whole science behind mediation and wellbeing.   Despite the fact that there are quite a few books out there on meditation, it is hard to find one that will help those starting off establish a practice in a way that is clear, well-written and experiential. Well, finally, here is such a book. It is written as a 28-Day Programme – or rather “experiment” –  for readers to try to see if they notice the beneficial effects in their lives. It includes a CD with guided meditations.

The book explains the science behind meditation and happiness, leads the reader through meditation practices for each day and then goes deeper into some of the assumptions which operate in our lives and which may get in the way of a full and compassionate life. We are led to bring these assumptions into awareness so as to loosen their grip on us:  Meditation teaches us to focus and to pay clear attention to our experiences and responses as they arise, and to observe them without judging them. That allows us to detect harmful habits of mind that were previously invisible to us. For example, we may sometimes base our actions on unexamined ideas (“I don’t deserve love, you just can’t reason with people, I’m not capable of dealing with tough situations”) that keep us stuck in unproductive patterns. Once we notice these reflexive responses and how they undermine our ability to pay attention to the present moment, then we can make better, more informed choices. And we can respond to others more compassionately and authentically, in a more creative way. (Page 10f)

This is why we practice meditation – so that we can treat ourselves more compassionately; improve our relationships with friends, family and community, live lives of greater connection and even in the face of challenges, stay in touch with what we really care about so that we can act in ways that are consistent with our values. One of the things I have always found so interesting about the meditation practice is that the arena can seem so small – just you in a room – but the life lessons, the realizations and understandings that arise  from it can be pretty big.

Everyday inspiration:

Sylvia Boorstein Happiness is an Inside Job

In this helpful and approachable book, Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein teaches in her usual style, using anecdotes—some humorous, some more serious—to show how she tries to keep herself focused in the various situations she finds herself. She teaches in a very conversational style and never sets herself up as perfect. Indeed, one of the nice things about this book is that Boorstein tells of times when she, too, gets upset or sees things from a more personal standpoint that the situation calls for.

I consider my meditation practice a success because of one crucial and definite change in me in the thirty years since I began. I now trust that even when what is happening to me is difficult and my response to it is painful, I will not suffer if I can keep my mind clear enough to keep my heart engaged. I know that my suffering begins whenever my mind, for whatever reason becomes confused. In its confusion, it seems to forget everything it ever knew. It tells itself stories, alternatively angry (“This isn’t fair!”) or pitiful (“Poor me!”) or frightening (“I can’t stand it if things aren’t different!”). No inner voice of wisdom (“This is what is happening, it’s part of the whole spectrum of painful things that happen to human beings, and you can manage”) can make itself heard to soothe the distress. I continue to suffer, stumbling around in stories of discontent, until I catch myself, and stop, and allow myself to know, and deeply feel, that I am frightened or confused or disappointed or angry or tired or ashamed or sad—that “I’m in pain!” Then my own good heart, out of compassion, takes care of me.


Jon Kabat Zinn, Wherever You go, There You are.

Jon Kabat Zinn is largely responsible for the development of the notion of mindfulness as a medical response to certain psychological and physical conditions. In this follow-up to Full Catastrophe Living – the book in which he presented the basic Mindfulness Programme as a way of reducing stress and healing from illness – he goes much more deeply into the practice of meditation for its own sake. It is his most accessible work, in short and almost poetic chapters, and is very helpful about the reasons for and practices of meditation. It has three parts: The first gives reasons why you should start or deepen a personal practice of meditation. The second explores some of the basic aspects of any mediation practice. And part three explores various applications of mindfulness.

I first read this book over four years ago and still return to it regularly, finding little bits of inspiration and wisdom on each page.

….meditation is not about feeling a certain way. It’s about feeling the way you feel. It’s not about making the mind empty or still, although stillness does deepen in meditation and can be cultivated systematically. Above all, meditation is about letting the mind be as it is and knowing something about how it is in this moment. It’s not about getting somewhere else, but about allowing yourself to be where you already are.

12 thoughts on “Books 1.

  1. I am interested in developing my practice of mindfulness both in my personal and professional life. Would be interested in following this Blog.

    Peter Wiltshire

  2. so many excellent suggestions. Really appreciate your explanation of each.Very helpful. Already own a couple from your list. Hope you will continue to add to the list. Very often when you write a post from a book …I am tempted to run out and buy it because your posts are soooo good!

  3. Hello Karl….which of these books would you recommend for a person recovering from c-PTSD as a result of childhood abuse?

    I started meditating early last year to help calm down my nervous system and would like to develope my practise further.

  4. Great suggestions – I have long been familiar with Jon Kabat-Zinn, but haven’t explored any of the other reads you suggest. Thank you!

  5. Thank you for these list of amazing books. I am mental health graduate student in my practicum now, but I also have generalized anxiety issues that I work on. I’m really happy I found your blog though Ines, from Pretty Little Things blog.

  6. Calming Your Anxious Mind was the most important book for me in teaching me to use meditation as a tool to cope with anxiety when I first started having panic attacks. So glad to see it on this list!

    1. Thanks Reba for dropping by and commenting. I found Jeffrey Brantley one of the clearest and most helpful writers. Your blog is lovely! Best wishes on a grey morning in Ireland. Karl

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s