Mind Matters — Insightful Reading

In this February time, after the December rush and before the burst of spring to summer, why not sit down awhile for some reading? Granted, the books I offer here are not action or mystery novels or passionate romances. But even well done “self help” books can be page turners.

Often, I have referred clients to certain books that seem pertinent to their situation, to have them return saying they could see themselves on every page—and so the pages did indeed keep turning.

There is now a burgeoning interest in the field of psychotherapy to incorporate meditation and “mindfulness”. Many years ago, my daughter and I spent a day of meditation with Vietnamese Buddhist master, Thick Nhat Hanh. We worked with him in “mindfulness” around the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It was a time (1990) of impending war—the First Gulf War.

It was clear that Thick Nhat Hanh is a compassionate man full of integrity who has always taken an active stance for peace. He is a man who takes contemplation into action. He is a prolific writer and any of his books are wonderful to read. It may be wise however to begin with one of his earlier books, The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation. There are new books on the market, but I trust Thick Nhat Hanh to walk his talk. So why the title? Thick Nhat Hanh reminds us that mindfulness refers “to keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality.” And with that, mindfulness is not just about sitting still, but about being mindful of the present moment wherever we are. Thick Nhat Hanh describes how when he walks, he notices his foot fall on the earth. He remarks, “People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in the air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child—our own two eyes. All is a miracle.” Thick Nhat Hanh teaches how to bring attention to the present moment. The medical and psychological professions have discovered that mindfulness meditation that teaches us how to attend to our breath and quiet ourselves can be medically and psychologically beneficial. But Thick Nhat Hanh notes that the goal of meditation goes much deeper than learning rest and relaxation. Beyond that, one may eventually, far along the path of meditation, “realize a tranquil heart and clear mind.”

Another meditation teacher I admire is Tara Brach. A psychologist, she wrote Radical Acceptance. This book is more therapeutically oriented and provides meditation guidelines for particular issues, such as shame or anxiety.

Although they are not teachers of mindfulness, two other authors I respect for their walking their talk are Deborah Tanner and Harriet Lerner. Deborah Tanner is a professor at Georgetown University who has written many popular books about the dynamics of conversation and language—between men and women, at the workplace, in family interactions. Her latest book, You’re Wearing That?, is a study of mothers and daughters in conversation. Tanner uncovers once again the complexities and nuances of human beings in social interaction. When we read her works, we come to understand not only why we may have uttered some remark “that way”, but we also begin to understand the inscrutable others in our lives.

Harriet Lerner’s works also forthrightly examine the interactions of “self and other.” Her first book, Dance of Anger, is a clear statement of the inter-generational effects of the family system upon the individual.

So, you may wonder, so what does this have to do with me? Reading the “right” self help book—that is, one based on solid knowledge and not the author’s whim can be life changing.