6 Mindful Books to Keep Your Mind Healthy
1) Out of My Skull
James Danckert and John D. Eastwood
Harvard University Press
A plethora of books that attempt to rehabilitate boredom as a normal, even valuable, experience have found their way to the Mindful offices in recent years. The benefits of boredom are still trending. This tome by Danckert and Eastwood, both professors of psychology (at University of Waterloo and York University, respectively), stands out because it explores not just what boredom can do for you, but what boredom is and why it (paradoxically) deserves our attention.
“Boredom reveals an important aspect of being human: We have a strong need to be engaged with the world around us,” they write. It’s the interplay between our circumstances and our brain’s response to them—being stuck in an airport, for example—that leaves us “caught in a desire conundrum, wanting to do something but not wanting to do anything…that is currently doable.” We all naturally want to immerse our skills, talents, and mental faculties in something. Certain traits and behaviors, however, can change how susceptible to boredom we are. Case in point: The ability to steadily focus our mind on whatever is happening around us means we’re engaged, therefore not bored. Neglecting to hone attention skills seems to be “a logical cause of boredom.” Boredom may result in positive expressions, such as creativity and the elusive “flow state,” but it can also contribute to risky choices, poor self-control, and even mental health struggles.
What readers will find here is not a straightforward path to using mindfulness to combat the dreaded boredom in our lives, but rather a highly researched yet accessible account of boredom’s psychological and social implications, as well as some solid recommendations for how we might choose to work with it.
Little, Brown, and Company
In 1971, professor Philip Zimbardo carried out the notorious Stanford Prison Experiment, wherein “a group of ordinary students morphed into monsters,” in the words of Rutger Bregman. In a pivotal chapter in Humankind, Bregman lumps this experiment together with Stanley Milgram’s 1961 study where subjects applied what they were told were electric shocks to people who answered questions incorrectly, and a full 65% of the subjects continued applying shocks up to the limit they were told to apply. To this pair, he adds studies of the “bystander effect” that came out of the 1964 murder of Kitty Genovese in New York, which occurred while many appeared to look on and do nothing.
Bregman brings this research up—after an earlier chapter on William Golding’s Lord of the Flies—to show us what has been marshaled to lead to the conclusion that we are, as one columnist put it after the Genovese incident, “a callous, chickenhearted and immoral people,” or as Golding wrote, “Man produces evil as a bee produces honey.”
Bregman gradually widens each frame to reveal bigger pictures. The Milgram and Zimbardo experiments suffered from the same disease as reality TV: The producers and directors are outside the picture hectoring and egging the participants on. Psychological research can’t be done this way anymore, and Zimbardo himself atoned by launching the Heroic Imagination Project. In the Genovese case, there were people who did something, but they were overlooked in the zeal to tell a sensational story.
This gets to the heart of what Bregman is about: Because people have done bad things, including some very shockingly bad things (see the Holocaust), we revert to a simplistic story of basic badness. Then, we design things based on that belief, leading to outcomes like mass incarceration. He’s asking us to consider what would happen if we started from a belief in people’s fundamental decency, for which we also have a great deal of evidence. Would we build a better world?
3) Mindfulness for Challenging Times
In the publishing industry, “crashing” refers to putting together a book in an insanely rapid period of time in order to speak immediately to an issue of the day. Shamash Alidina has done just that with this little volume of 27 pieces, written by 28 different mindfulness teachers during the COVID-19 pandemic and released in time for the United Nations International Day of Living Together in Peace on May 16, 2020. Quite a feat!
Mindfulness for Challenging Times covers a dazzling array of topics, from dealing with isolation, stress, and trauma to parenting, eating, media consumption, and cleaning (!). Free online guided meditations and exercises are included, and all profits go to support the work of the World Health Organization.
4) You Belong
This debut from meditation teacher Sebene Selassie is a pure delight. Selassie’s style tells the reader: You belong in these pages, and her message tells us: You belong, period. Selassie pulls from science, ancient Indigenous wisdom, Buddhism, art, pop culture, friends’ anecdotes, and her own experience (as an Ethiopian-Eritrean child of immigrants, regularly the only Black kid in any group, three-time survivor of cancer, longtime meditator, and life-long seeker of ways to belong) to build a convincing argument: “The only thing human beings who breathe a breath have in common are birth, death, and belonging.” That belonging, Selassie notes, is tied to knowing and loving ourselves, but also to the idea that we are intrinsically linked. In the end, belonging is love. It belongs to us all—and we to it.
5) The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health
Rheeda Walker, PhD
“The belief that we can endure anything is both a strength and a weakness of our current culture,” writes Rheeda Walker, a behavioral scientist and psychology professor at the University of Houston. Early in The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health, she highlights the struggles with mental illness and suicide that Black people experience, which go widely unacknowledged. She makes the empowering case that, in the midst of white supremacy and all its implications, Black people need to cultivate “psychological fortitude,” sharing frameworks and resources that speak directly from and to Black Americans’ realities. Equally vital, for Walker, is the life-giving opportunity to celebrate one’s Black cultural and spiritual belonging. The book’s focus is twofold: Part One, Recognize Serious Threats to Emotional Health and Life; and Part 2, Reclaim Your Mind to Reclaim a Life Worth Living.
6) Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom
Christiane Northrup, MD
Penguin Random House
This fifth edition of Christiane Northrup’s landmark handbook for women’s health, first published in 1996, has been updated for the #metoo generation. As with Northrup’s four earlier revised editions, this one offers updated treatment and research data, and updated thinking, too, from Northrup’s new stage in life: grandmother.
Northrup is still all about a holistic approach to women’s health, and that includes considering the culture in which women live. Northrup doubles down on her avowal that having internalized our bodies as a problem is at the heart of women’s health, and that sexual trauma and abuse play out in our physical body. She notes that as the tide seems to be turning for sexual assault and harassment, so too must the tide turn for healthcare. This book will be for any woman who missed it the first time around—it’s comprehensively dedicated to women’s health, from the role of the patriarchy in women’s health care to understanding menopause, and includes a 12-step program for flourishing.