“Get Some Headspace” – a nice accompaniment or first book for meditation

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I’ve written about meditation apps before and why meditation is a good idea from the scientific standpoint. I had been using the Meditation Studio app, but after receiving a coupon that discounted Headspace (not in conjunction with this blog- I received it as part of their regular New Year’s Promotion via email) for three months, I decided to take the jump and bought a year’s worth of the service. I’ll probably write more about the app itself in a few weeks. I’m in the third series of classes, and would like to try more of the single classes and other series before I comment. If anyone else is using Headspace, I’d love to be Headspace friends- leave me a comment below!

I have enjoyed the experience of meditation a lot more this time than I did 20 years ago, when I could not settle down. Still, I wanted to read more about the Headspace method of guided meditation, so I picked up Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day, by Andy Puddicombe. He is also the person who narrates the guided meditations.

The book has several parts: an introduction and discussion of mindfulness, how to practice (the Take Ten method, which is the basis the parts of the app I have used so far), a section on integration, and the nuts and bolts of a day to day meditation practice. The end of the book is concerned with having a more mindful mindset (gratitude, etc), and a few case studies, as well as a journal, which is less useful on the Kindle version.

I think this book works well as either an accompaniment to practice on Headspace, or as a first time book on meditation and mindfulness. Since I am more than halfway through the introductory classes on meditation, it has given me some background on what I am doing in the classes. I have more insight for why I am doing a body scan in the beginning of the guided meditation, or why I am counting breaths at the end. In the meditations, he suggests that the mind is like a clear blue sky, and our thoughts are the clouds obscuring it- every once in awhile, we get a view of the sky, our mind, as it really is. In the book, he describes our mind as a pool of water, and we can see the bottom only when we remain still enough to stop the turbulence at the surface of water. I find both metaphors to be useful at different times in meditation.

He also gives enough practical advice to be useful day to day. What kind of chair (or not) should you sit in? What behaviors support meditation?  How long should you meditate for? What time of day should you meditate for?

I also liked the chapter of integration of mindfulness into every day life- this is something that Thich Nhat Hanh, the well-known Vietnamese Zen monk, stresses. What good is meditation if you do not bring it into the world and positively affect others? To this end, Mr. Puddicombe talks about walking, and running meditations- teaching one to be mindful during those activities. If this is your focus, mindfulness at every moment, I actually suggest a supplemental book: Present Moment, Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living, by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book is filled with useful gathas (short mindfulness verses) that remind us to live and experience every moment, good or bad (using washing the dishes, or the phone ringing, as a mindfulness experience).

A last thought- in the reviews on Amazon, I saw a lot of good reviews, but also some complaining that the book was too simplistic. I did not find this to be true. I know that in my own case, sometimes I will read more and more books about a topic, in increasing levels of complication, rather than actually put down the book and try something. I suggest that this is often the case in meditation. The concept is quite simple, the practice is not. I have come back to reading some books which are quite simple on the surface, over and over, and gain something new every time. I would challenge someone who complains that the language or message of a book on meditation is too simple- sit down and meditate. Then go back, and see what you learn from the books again.

I’m really interested to hear what you think about this, or any related topic! Please don’t hesitate to comment below. Also, I still need some Headspace friends!

“The Cozy Life: Rediscover the Joy of the Simple Things Through the Danish Concept of Hygge”: a book review…

relaxing-1979674_1920Hygge (hew-gah) is a popular topic these days, despite having an unattractive name- just do a search on Amazon, and there are at least 10 new books on the topic! The idea is simple cozy living at home for life satisfaction- similar to mindfulness, I guess. I first read about this concept in the book “The Year of Living Danishly” by Helen Russell.  She moved to Denmark with her significant other to learn why Denmark is consistently rated as the world’s happiest country. I thought that book was quite informative, and I was intrigued by the concept of Hygge, so I picked up “The Cozy Life” by Pia Edberg to learn more. Though I finished the book, I can’t say that I learned anymore from this book about Hygge than I did from Helen Russell’s book,  a recent New Yorker article that you can find for free here and a recent New York Times article that you can find here. If you have NEVER read anything about Hygge, the graphic above essentially gives you an idea of what it is. I guess the book would be essentially best for someone who wants a light introduction to the subject, and some inspiration to the topic. I didn’t think the advice such as to light spice or vanilla scented candles for a cozy atmosphere was worth the price of the book.

A Book review: “Daily Rituals: How Artists Work”

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I just finished reading Mason Currey’s Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, which was a suggestion from Tim Ferris’s blog. I have always been interested in the minutiae of everyday life, and what people are thinking and doing. In fact, much of my early reading about history was focused more on what life was like for people who lived back then, rather than wars, laws, who was reigning or elected, etc. Mindfulness training was just a small jump for me, as I am already focused on appreciating the present moment.

So for me, this book was like a smorgasbord of all the things I’m the most interested in: what do successful artists, writers and scientists do during their everyday lives? The answer is: mostly the same things we do. Some of them drink and smoke a lot more than others; some hardly eat while some have regular meal times; some sleep long hours at night while some nap during the day instead. Still, I found the little things fascinating. Many of them were extremely attentive to the details of their lives, and gave themselves plenty of time to think about their work. Many of them were avid readers.

I think there were two major messages for me:

  1. The amount of time spent doing their work did not necessarily equal quality or output. There were just as many writers who worked very specific hours, and then stopped to enjoy their lives as there were people who slaved away all day, barely eating or living their lives. Both were capable of great work.
  2. Great works of art seemed to be as much hard work as inspiration. Many of them found producing their art, whether writing or work, to be arduous, but worth it.

I felt like this was an intriguing book, especially if you’re interested in maximizing your own daily rituals. My only criticism is that I wish the author had a more attentive editor. There were many typos that I noticed, and some artists’ biographies extended past their lifetime if their dates of death were to be believed!

“Evicted” by Matthew Desmond

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Evicted by Matthew Desmond was on several “Best of 2016” lists, but did it deserve the adulation the book received? For me, the answer was yes. Mr. Desmond, who has a PhD in sociology and specialized in the study of poverty, spent a few years living in low income housing with several families and individuals at risk for homelessness. He writes in the afterward that he was trying to find a “process that bound poor and rich people together in mutual dependence and struggle. Eviction was such a process.”

The stories of these people, often less than a paycheck from homelessness, were devastating. As a well-educated, financially stable person, I had no idea that there were completely insufficient social resources to act as a safety net; that as part of a misconceived community policing effort, landlords could be encouraged to evict women who were the victims of domestic violence (because their 911 calls marked the property as a “problem residence” for which the landlord can be fined). He also does a good job explaining the struggle of the landlords, though frankly it was less easy to relate to them, interestingly enough since I am likely more like the landlords socioeconomically. To me, this is the result of the thorough, and sympathetic treatment that his subjects receive at the hands of Mr. Desmond.

Why do I include this book review on this blog? Partly because I believe it is an amazing book, along the lines of Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle that brought the plight of the meat industry and those who worked in it to light, leading to a public outcry and legislation to reform the industry.

Additionally, part of the aim of my blog is to improve wellness among my readers. I strongly believe that empathy is part of a healthy psyche. In fact, lack of empathy is a major part of some mental health disorders and personality disorders. Studies recently have shown that our empathy is improved when we consider a few individuals, which makes it easier to conceptualize and personalize a situation. This is likely part of the reason that many people were not as concerned about Syria and the mass killings in Aleppo- 500,000 dead was too many for our minds to wrap around. Reading a book like this, with a few faces of poverty can help us put our own issues in perspective (I have never had to choose between rent and keeping the house warm or feeding my children!) and lead us to take productive, decisive action as citizens of our communities, country and world.

You need to read this book!

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“To dramatically change your life, you don’t need to run a 100-mile race, get a PhD., or completely reinvent yourself. It’s the small things, done consistently, that are big things.” –Tim Ferris

I just finished a great book, and feel like going back to re-read it already. I’m sure I’ve missed something since there is so much good information here. After downloading a sample from Amazon, I immediately bought the book, and highlighted so much information, I probably negated the point of highlighting in the first place! The book that I’m writing about is Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines and Habits of Billionaires, Icons and World Class Performers, by Tim Ferris.

The author of the Four Hour series (Four Hour Workweek, Four-hour Chef, etc), Mr. Ferris has a blog where he interviews interesting people- Navy Seals, technology and finance innovators, star athletes, movie stars, etc- that he admires. What a great job! For this book, he has whittled down each interview into the gems: quotes, books they read, strategies, etc. that each person uses. The book is organized roughly topically, into Benjamin Franklin’s “healthy, wealthy and wise” concept with each interviewee listed roughly in the section that applies to them, though I feel that many meet all three categories!

Additionally, he has written chapters that expand on some of the interview topics in the book, and I have to say that a few of the chapters- one on being a lifelong traveler, and one on “the canvas strategy” are worth the price of the book on their own. “The canvas strategy” which the author adapted from another author, Ryan Holliday, who in turn adapted from the Stoics, is the idea that serving others selflessly allows us to learn, provided we are choosing the right teacher. I thought this was such a profound message- learn by putting your ego aside, and serving someone else.

One of the many things I appreciate about this book is probably not something that other people would notice, but as a psychiatrist who has worked in hospice as a volunteer and deals with death anxiety frequently in patients, I appreciate the thread running through the book regarding the brevity of life, and inevitability of death- make the most of what you have! I often suggest Staring at the Sun by Irving Yalom for patients regarding this issue.

My only complaint- and it isn’t really a complaint: at the end, he lists all of the books that his guests have suggested as vital to their development. My book list to read is now longer than I have conceivable years on earth!

Resolution #4: Read more this year!

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In this series, we have talked about how to make resolutions, how to troubleshoot lagging resolutions, and then, apps to support common resolutions: losing weight, running, getting finances in order…This is the last of the series. Reading more is a common resolution, and this one, I’m an expert in!  I read both paper books and electronic books.

I use two reading apps every day: the Kindle App and Goodreads. I do a lot of my reading on the Kindle, both a Kindle device (the Voyager) and the kindle app on my iPad. I actually prefer reading on the actual Kindle if I have it with me because I find the e-ink is easier to read, but also, there are less distractions. My iPad has Facebook, email, etc, and I find myself checking them more often than I would like. I don’t like iBooks as much. I find the page turning lags, and the book selection is not as extensive as Amazon’s.

I both read and annotate books in the Kindle app, and when I am finished with a book, I go to www.kindle.amazon.com, to cut and paste my highlights and notes into a note in Evernote. In that way, all the highlights are fully searchable and in one place. You can just use the Evernote clipper, but I prefer to have one book per note in Evernote.

I also borrow books on my Kindle. I find people are often surprised you can borrow books from the library on your kindle, but as long as your library has an e-library, most of the time, you can borrow them within the kindle. If the books are not available on the kindle, you can usually use an app called Overdrive, which can manage library books- and is in some ways easier to borrow books on, but doesn’t allow you to read them on different devices like the Kindle app does. After the allotted time, usually two weeks, the book disappears from your kindle, but the highlights remain.

Goodreads is another app I use all the time. I have a reading list which is probably longer than the time I have left on this earth. Every time I hear a new book suggestion that I am interested in, I put it in the Goodreads app, which is a social media site for readers. You can write reviews, read others’ reviews on books, and get suggestions for books you would be interested in. Also, if you’re hoping to read more this year, you can set a Reading Challenge goal for yourself. If you have a book on your to-read list that goes on sale, Goodreads will alert you, which is nice.

I also have a few resources I regularly find books in. The first is Bookmarks magazine, which basically compiles reviews of books, in a sort of book review meta-analysis. They have great suggestions. The other resources I use daily are www.earlybirdbooks.com and www.booklemur.com which are free services. You sign up for the services, choosing what subjects you are interested in reading about, and they email you a list daily of books in those subjects that are on sale, usually about $1-$3, which is a substantial savings!

Are you a reader? What apps do you use? Connect with me on Goodreads here.