What does it mean to be a student of mindfulness? In addition to being a philosophical question I frequently ask myself, it’s a question that I am often asked by others when I share my current pursuit as a Masters degree student in Mindfulness Studies at Lesley University. Lesley is a private university in Cambridge, Massachusetts, originally created by Edith Lesley in 1909 to train teachers for the growing kindergarten movement. In addition to many interdisciplinary and educational programs Lesley offers today, it also houses the Mindfulness Studies department, the first of its kind in North America, founded by Dr. Nancy Waring in 2014.
In addition to studying the East Asian and Buddhist roots of meditation and mindfulness practice, our program of study explores what it means to be a mindful citizen today. We ask ourselves as mindfulness students, knowing what the heart and mind are capable of, what is our responsibility as inhabitants of this world?
The following books originally came to my growing library via various syllabi over the last two years of studies, but have continued to be helpful in my own understanding of this question on what a mindful citizen of the world can look like. They have become my anchors in this lifelong exploration, and can do the same for anyone interested in having a well-rounded view of mindfulness.
The Engaged Spiritual Life
A Buddhist Approach to Transforming Ourselves and the World
by Donald Rothberg
This book asks its readers to explore what a mindful life looks like off the cushion and is a key text on what it means to be an engaged spiritual practitioner, the original vision of the Buddha himself.
The Interpersonal Path to Freedom
by Gregory Kramer
It can often feel like the calm and clarity that arises in formal solo meditative practice goes completely out the window once other living beings are thrown into the mix. Kramer explores throughout the book how interpersonal dialogue can be a training ground for mindful discovery.
Say What You Mean
A Mindful Approach to Nonviolent Communication
by Oren Jay Sofer
Sofer’s engaging and insightful exploration of the Buddha’s eightfold path factor of Right Speech, in tandem with Marshall Rosenberg’s revolutionary theory of Nonviolent Communication, was a game changer for my personal understanding of how mindfulness practice is a tool for social engagement and better relationships.
The Inner Work of Racial Justice
Healing Ourselves and Transforming our Communities Through Mindfulness
by Rhonda V. Magee
By weaving in the depth of her experience as a lawyer and a devoted Buddhist practitioner, Magee speaks to how each one of us is responsible for unlearning our racial conditioning. This book weaves in practices and meditation that make the inner work of racial justice tangible and accessible.
A Buddhist Investigation of Who We Really Are
by Andrew Olendzki
The concept of nonself is one of early Buddhism’s most misunderstood and complex ideas. Olendzki’s metaphorical writing made the concept of anatta one of my favorites to discuss and contemplate. (Disclosure: Andrew Olendzki is the Director of the Lesley Mindfulness Studies program and, like a number of the people on this list, a Lion’s Roar contributor.)
The Buddha’s Path of Kindness, Compassion, Joy, and Equanimity
by Christina Feldman
Feldman’s prose feels like poetry. This is a core text in the contemporary understanding of the four brahmaviharas, or divine abodes, the inherent capacities of the heart (These are loving-kindness, or metta; compassion, or karuna; sympathetic joy, or mudita; and equanimity, or upekkha.)
Black and Buddhist
What Buddhism Can Teach Us About Race, Resilience, Transformation, and Freedom
Edited by Pamela Ayo Yetunde and Cheryl Giles
With contributions by Acharya Gaylon Ferguson, Cheryl A. Giles, Gyōzan Royce Andrew Johnson, Ruth King, Kamilah Majied, Lama Rod Owens, Lama Dawa Tarchin Phillips, Sebene Selassie, and Pamela Ayo Yetunde.
This book provided me with insight into how Black Buddhist practitioners have found solace and empowerment through the dharma. It is a collection of essays by many of the leading Black Buddhists of our time about how the dharma has enriched their personal understanding of liberation and freedom, and explores what mindfulness practice is capable of providing in contemporary society. It is an insightful and often heartbreaking exploration of how the concepts of both race and resilience go hand in hand in America.
Full Catastrophe Living
Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain, and Illness
by Jon Kabat-Zinn
There can be no study of mindfulness in the West without mentioning the contributions of Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. This book enriched my understanding of MBSR and the dawning of the secular mindfulness movement of the mid-twentieth century.
The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom
by Rick Hanson
New Harbinger Publications
A user-friendly guide even for the less scientifically-inclined among us (including myself), on the neuroscientific effects of meditation on the brain. The science of mindfulness practice is a new frontier of study over the last twenty years and Dr. Rick Hanson is at its forefront.
The Revolutionary Art of Happiness
by Sharon Salzberg
This was the preeminent Sharon Salzberg’s first book and demands a spot in any growing mindfulness student’s library. Reading about Salzberg’s journey of becoming one of the core teachers of Buddhism and mindfulness in the West, and the importance of loving-kindness in her life, is nothing short of inspiring.