Meditation hasn’t always had a great rep in the West. For years most saw it either as a sort of hopelessly exotic thing only achievable by monks, or an odd activity best left to hairy hippies.
That’s all changed in the age of self-care. And now - thanks in part to yoga taking over our gyms - meditation is all over the place, along with the broader, more accessible ‘mindfulness’. That involves less sitting down in silence for half an hour while trying not to think, and more a thoughtful, considered approach to one’s mind throughout the day.
UPDATE: This week we've added the very popular Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. This book does what it says on the tin. First published in the early 80s, it brings an (often much-needed) honest and simple approach to mindfulness practice that's easy to follow and get started with straight away.
Whether you’re just getting into meditation, or are already as mindful as can be, these books are a great way to dig deeper into your practice, help discover new techniques, or see how mindfulness might apply to the rest of your life.
1. The Headspace Guide to Meditation & Mindfulness
If Headspace sounds familiar, it’s probably not because of this book. Andy Puddicombe’s creation is the big name in smartphone meditation apps. Unfortunately, while there’s a limited free edition, at £74.99 per year the full app is out of most people’s reach. At a tenth of the price this book is a great intro to the basic techniques and the arguments for finding just 10 minutes a day to meditate.
2. 10% Happier
This book from American TV news anchor Dan Harris is part memoir, part intro to meditation, and all from a sceptic’s perspective. This is hardly a deep dive into the culture or history of meditation, but if you want to understand some of the science behind it - along with a personal account of someone’s own experiences giving it a go - 10% Happier is well worth a read.
3. The Power of Now
If you've been interested in mindfulness before but find yourself asking "but why should I try it?" then this book is for you. It's all about how all there is, is right now. Yes that sounds obvious, but Tolle has a beautiful and poetic way with words, really cementing the power of accepting and living in the present moment. For many this has been a life-changing read and I guarantee you'll pick it up time and time again.
4. Waking Up: Searching For Spirituality Without Religion
If the name Sam Harris rings a bell, that's because he's become something of a meditation expert. He's even given TED talks about his learnings and has a fantastic app, also called Waking Up. This book charts Sam's journey to "waking up" detailing his experiences and the challenges he's faced along the way in a manner that means you can learn with him. He talks through how he meditates, why he's important and the best bit is he's a little skeptic and spiritual too, which is a good mix if you've been keen to get into meditation but don't like a lot of the woo-woo nonsense that can so often come with it.
5. Mindfulness in Plain English
Recommended by Sam Harris (who wrote Waking Up) on the Tim Ferriss Show podcast, this book does what it says on the tin. First published in the early 80s, it brings an (often much-needed) honest and simple approach to mindfulness practice that's easy to follow and get started with straight away.
6. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying
At this point Marie Kondo hardly needs an introduction. Her Netflix series sparked a storm of decluttering that left charity shops scrambling to keep up, but before all that was this book. It’s more personal than the show, as she lays out the philosophy behind her mindful approach to possessions and recounts the childhood anecdotes that made her realise her views on tidiness were not 100% normal.
7. I Am Here Now
This one’s a little different. Created by London-based The Mindfulness Project, I Am Here Now is both a guide to meditation and a journal to help you track and record your own experiences with it. Use the accompanying audio tracks to try various meditation and mindfulness exercises, then use the journal to jot down your thoughts and explore a few mindful artistic exercises.
8. Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world
This is another of the more practically minded mindfulness books out there. You can tell by how much it looks like a naff school textbook. This includes both an explanation of the science of mindfulness (specifically the mindfulness-based cognitive therapy techniques this is built on) and a set of practical guidelines for getting into the habit - together with a CD (remember them?) of audio exercises to help.
9. The Little Book of Ikigai
There are a few books around on the Japanese concept of ikigai, but we're fans of this one by Ken Mogi. Partly because it’s short enough to read and digest in one or two sittings. If you don’t know, ‘ikigai’ is one of those great Japanese words that won’t quite translate right to English, but it essentially boils down to finding purpose and satisfaction in everything you do - from your job to your hobbies and even relationships. You combine what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs, and what will help you make dollar.
10. The Ladybird Book of Mindfulness
And now for something totally silly. Admittedly, this probably won’t help make you much more mindful, but it might help remind you that even with mindfulness there’s a risk of taking it all a bit too seriously. This Ladybird parody book skewers the sillier end of the movement, as a reminder to take the advice in all the other books with a small pinch of salt.
11. The Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down
Jumping from Japan to Korea, Haemin Sumin is another monk who turned his hand to writing. The Things You Can See sits slightly closer to self-help, with advice on how to handle everything from work to relationships. It’s all inspired by his experience as a Zen Buddhist monk but the advice relies more on mindfulness as an approach to life than it does on any specific religious stuff.
12. The Mindfulness Colouring Book
Here’s something a little different. Part of the boom in adult colouring books, this doesn’t offer much in the way of specific meditative wisdom. But if you find it hard to take the time out every day, this might give you an excuse to, with a selection of calming scenes to illustrate. There are plenty of colourful birds and simple repeating patterns. An activity like this will help you quiet the chatter of your mind and get back to what really matters: colouring in.
13. A Monk’s Guide to A Clean House & Mind
Once you’re done clearing your excess possessions with Marie Kondo, you might want this short book from Japanese monk Shoukei Matsumoto. He explains the Zen Buddhist approach to cleanliness and tidying - of both body and house - right down to the Zen method of going to the toilet.