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Mind Over Matter

With Personal Growth, Belief Is Everything

This recent crop of books will cultivate interest among lifelong learners by helping them mature spiritually, offering new ways to reframe their thinking, and encouraging the importance of rituals. In a market already overwhelmed with self-help titles, these five distinguish themselves as eminently readable and substantive enough to spur genuine self-improvement.

In New World Mindfulness: From the Founding Fathers, Emerson, and Thoreau, to Your Personal Practice (Healing Arts Press, 978-1-59477-424-9), Donald McCown and Marc S. Micozzi, MD, PhD, soothe those wary of meditation and similar practices by defining mindfulness as “be[ing] present to how it is, knowing all that you can about your immediate experience.” This engrossing narrative includes recent scientific studies proving the benefits of mindfulness, intended for readers who prefer empirical data. The authors believe there is no single correct way to be aware of the present moment; it’s all about what works for each person. The mindfulness techniques range from the seemingly strange (focusing on one’s sighs) to the more traditional (relaxing one’s body with attention to each part). McCown and Micozzi also explore the history of mindfulness in this country in a tone at once scholarly and accessible, using the evocative stories of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau as exemplars of the practice. Quotes from other mindfulness practitioners, both ancient and modern, are woven throughout the book, allowing readers to understand the concept from multiple perspectives and reinforcing the authors’ idea that mindfulness is multifaceted.

For those seeking to revive cranial synapses, Rewire Your Brain for Love: Creating Vibrant Relationships Using the Science of Mindfulness (Hay House, 978-1-4019-3161-2) successfully combines mindfulness, psychotherapy, and neuroscience to illustrate how retraining one’s brain leads to better relationships. Whereas many self-help books focus on improving romantic partnerships, this book refreshingly aims to benefit one’s relationship with oneself and everyone else, including lovers. Using a chatty, humorous style in which she recognizes the complexity of her subject matter, Marsha Lucas, PhD, a practicing therapist, first gives readers a tour of the brain and its functions in layman’s terms. “What you do and what you think sculpt[s] your brain … It always fascinates me that … my brain manages this network of trillions of connections, and yet my brain can’t even wrap my mind around what a ‘trillion’ is,” she admits. Her friendly reassurance that she is awed by her topics makes her seem like a partner on the reader’s journey instead of an aloof expert. Her jaunty tone never falters as she explains the psychotherapeutic concept of attachment. After arming readers with an explanation of neuroscience and attachment, Lucas then enumerates seven ways to change the way one interacts with the world using mindfulness and awareness of how the brain functions. The author weaves in pertinent examples of clients from her own practice to illustrate each of the seven principles, deftly generalizing from each specific situation to make the concepts applicable to all readers.

Psychotherapist and workshop leader John Lee contends that some people who are unable to meet their full potential suffer from passivity. The Half-Lived Life: Overcoming Passivity and Rediscovering Your Authentic Self (Lyons Press, 978-0-7627-7252-0) provides a primer on the many ways in which such passivity can manifest itself, then provides readers with strategies to conquer their own inertia. Lee characterizes passive people as consciously pursuing the opposite of what they want because they are stuck in old patterns. “For genuine contact [with others] to prevail, these patterns must first be identified,” he explains. “We start going against the patterns to create new, untried ways of talking, thinking and being.” He warns that people who have accomplished much can nonetheless remain unfulfilled. After identifying the scope of the problem, he provides solutions to create new patterns, which include grieving one’s own abandonment, and expressing love for others in a way that the individuals you adore would understand, a practice he deems “active loving.” In a brilliant coup, Lee blends self-understanding and confidence into what he calls “compassionate assertiveness”—a way to dispel passivity and get one’s needs met by strengthening one’s emotional barometer. He defines his terms in straightforward language, allowing readers to readily understand the new vocabulary he introduces. Abundant pull-out quotations throughout this valuable book remind readers of key ideas.

Sally Anderson’s Freefall: Living Life Beyond the Edge (Morgan James, 978-1-61448-085-3) says many individuals lead disempowered lives because of default identities, which she defines as “the way so many of us learned to think about ourselves based on the cultures, beliefs, and values adopted from our teachers, peers, and family in which we grew up.” To shed one’s old default identity, the author believes the default identity must die in order for the empowered self to take root. In part one of her electrifying book, the psychotherapist and public speaker illustrates how to tackle one’s inner barriers using some radical ideas. For example, when people tell her they are going to kill themselves, Anderson says, “Great!” not because she believes suicide is wonderful, but because she thinks suicidal people know something within them has to perish, and that this moment represents a perfect time for them to begin stripping away their false selves. In part two, she writes with heartrending honesty about how a brutal attack at sixteen forced her to face her own default identity. She describes the road to her eventual career success after the assault even as she struggled with various addictions, and she underscores the instances when her true, empowered self tried to emerge.

Finally, for readers wondering how to mark significant occasions, Paula Pugh’s personal and touching Celebrating Beginnings and Endings: Mark the Moment: Book 1 (Sound Wisdom Press, 978-0-9837-0432-4) offers ideas on how to acknowledge an event, drawing poignant examples from the author’s personal life as well as from ceremonies she has professionally orchestrated. Pugh’s book discusses the need to recognize events between the customary joy at a birth and celebration of life at a funeral, such as moving, divorce, or putting one’s affairs in order before death from a terminal illness. Pugh maintains, “Significant times long to be noticed.” The author describes a four-step process for cultivating a memorable celebration. She then divides the rest of the book into three sections: beginnings, transitions, and endings. She stresses the uniqueness of each milestone celebration, saying that each event must hold meaning for its participants. Pugh’s stories will strike a chord with readers who have undergone events not typically memorialized, such as the death of a pet, joining a religious community, or the advent of menopause. The author’s charmingly hand-drawn illustrations add another bit of zest to this delightful and much-needed book.