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PEAK MIND

Find Your Focus, Own Your Attention, Invest 12 Minutes a Day

Amishi P. Jha, PhDHarper One

This long-awaited book from the leading neuroscientist studying the effects of contemplative practices on our attention system doesn’t disappoint. It’s an intricate subject, so it would be easy to get lost in the weeds. Not so here. You can read a chapter and turn to a ten-year-old and explain what you just learned. It’s not simplistic, however. It’s simply clearly written and organized, as befits an expert in how our attention can remain focused (or go all to hell).

Peak Mind is one of those books written by a leader in the field that’s wrapped in the kind of self-help package publishers hold dear, but that delivers so much more. It does offer help, but it also educates. It invites you to contemplate how something so innately part of who we are functions and malfunctions. In the early pages, I was taken by the explanatory power of this simple summation of ways attention breaks down: depleted attention, hijacked attention, fragmented attention, disconnected attention. Yikes! Has Amishi Jha been shadowing me? Because that sure sounds like the description of an average day.

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The (mostly) good news follows, in equally succinct terms: Attention is powerful, fragile, and trainable. The book delivers on those first two with a thorough roadmap to what we know today about the brain’s complex attention system and why it’s like any high-performance vehicle: delicate and finicky. It needs care and feeding. That’s where the trainable part comes in, which includes mindfulness meditation—which Jha has studied extensively—identifying and counteracting bias, and strengthening meta-awareness. It’s an uplifting read that makes a good case that taking care of our attention not only makes us more attentive, but less stressed out as well. (Read an excerpt on page 46.) –BB

FOUR THOUSAND WEEKS

Time Management for Mortals

Oliver BurkemanPenguin

With to-do lists that rule our days and sometimes feel infinite, it can be difficult to remember that we have a finite amount of time on earth. Just how finite? Well, according to Oliver Burkeman, 4,700 weeks, and that’s if you’re lucky. In Four Thousand Weeks, Burkeman uses wit and humor to lay down a hard truth: that never ending to-do list? You’re never going to get it all done. With this dose of reality, Four Thousand Weeks is not like other productivity books. While Burkeman isn’t going to tell you how to work faster or how to use your limited time, his approach forces you to examine just how you want to spend your time. In the words of Burkeman, “Once you no longer need to convince yourself that you’ll do everything that needs doing, you’re free to focus on doing [the] things that count.”–OL

GROW WILD

The Whole-Child, Whole-Family Nature-Rich Guide to Moving More

Katy BowmanPropriometrics Press

Humans are part of nature, writes Katy Bowman, bio-mechanist and movement expert, and, like any flora or fauna, we grow and adapt to our environment—for better or worse. Children today are what Bowman refers to as “sedentary natives,” the younger siblings of digital natives, although the two grew up hand-in-hand. In Grow Wild, Bowman offers ideas, science, and stories to help the reader become more aware of the ways we can rethink areas of our lives to make space for movement and nature. The book is fun, colorful, and doesn’t ask us to add activities to our already tight schedules, but helps us figure out the best ways we can weave movement into our daily lives so we can grow resilient kids and families. –AWC

HEALING WITH NATURE

Mindfulness and Somatic Practices to Heal From Trauma

Rochelle Calvert, PhDNew World Library

Nature can offer both deep refuge and deep learning, and in this gently written guidebook, Rochelle Calvert encourages readers to turn to nature as both a container for mindfulness awareness practices, and as a teacher of resilience when healing from trauma.

Healing With Nature provides a hospitable, traumain-formed introduction to mindfulness practices, with clear explanations of both the practices and what trauma is, how it acts on our bodies and minds, and how we can clear it from our systems. Some readers may find the personal stories from Calvert’s patients triggering, but she larders her prose with reminders to move through the practices safely, at one’s own pace, and with a lot of attention to what’s arising, thus holding her reader with loving-kindness in these pages—exactly right for a practical trauma workbook. Additionally, the practices in the book are available as audio downloads, which greatly increases the utility of Calvert’s offering here. –SD

THE MINDFUL FAMILY GUIDEBOOK

Renda Dionne Madrigal, PhDParallax Press

A Turtle Mountain Chippewa clinical psychologist and UCLA-certified mindfulness facilitator, Renda Dionne Madrigal draws from both ancestral knowledge and Western science in this remarkable book. Written to a parent who yearns to strengthen their family’s connections—to each other, to their shared values, to their roots—this guidebook points to how they can employ mindfulness for that purpose. Activities include child-friendly guided meditation practices, as well as storytelling, cultivating awareness and gratitude for one’s ancestors, and creating a Circle ritual together (an intentional space to nurture communication, learning, and kindness). The ways in which Dionne Madrigal shares the qualities of mindfulness embodied in Native American stories and practices convey vividly how we can all cultivate more joy, strength, integrity, and respect for ourselves and all others. –AT

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