Spring is the perfect time to freshen up your outlook—to cultivate new habits and attitudes that can lead to a more satisfying life. These four inspiring books are designed to help you thrive. Here’s to new possibilities!
Fear: We all submit to its grip every now and again. But if the feeling is getting in the way of your goals, it’s time to take action. Carla Marie Manly shows readers how to turn this emotion into a tool for growth in her new book, Joy From Fear: Create the Life of Your Dreams by Making Fear Your Friend. In this warm, welcoming guide, Manly, a clinical psychologist, digs deep into the subject of fear, exploring its connections to anxiety and childhood trauma. She also offers tips on how to constructively cope with worry, self-doubt and chronic stress—the forces that so often hold us back from happiness.
Breaking out of fear-based patterns is a crucial move on the journey to joy, Manly says, and she outlines a range of strategies, including visualization exercises and breathing techniques, for doing just that. Perhaps most importantly, she helps readers be receptive to “transformational fear”—a source of productive energy that can be a motivator for positive change, whether it’s making that dreaded doctor’s appointment or discussing relationship issues with a significant other. Sure, fear can paralyze, but it can also galvanize. Pick up a copy of Manly’s book, and prepare to feel empowered.
It may be small in size, but Diana Winston’s The Little Book of Being: Practices and Guidance for Uncovering Your Natural Awareness brims with big-hearted advice on achieving inner peace. Winston is the director of mindfulness education at the UCLA Semel Institute’s Mindful Awareness Research Center. She describes natural awareness as the mind “at rest,” a condition of “simply being—without agenda.” Once you know how to tap into it, Winston says, natural awareness can help you shut out the pressures and demands of daily activity and increase your sense of focus.
In brief chapters, Winston probes the meaning of natural awareness and leads readers through “glimpse practices” that can be performed at any point during the day or folded into a meditation routine. These simple prompts—including evocative word phrases and body-focused exercises—will help awaken natural awareness. Winston writes for both the experienced awareness-seeker and the novice, and she supplements her advice with insights into her own life and mindfulness evolution. When “you feel a sense of contentment not connected to external conditions,” Winston writes, you’re experiencing natural awareness. Her gentle instruction can result in a more open, responsive and balanced way of being.
Another take-action guide designed to bring about fundamental change is Shunmyo Masuno’s The Art of Simple Living: 100 Daily Practices From a Japanese Zen Monk for a Lifetime of Calm and Joy. This international bestseller has helped people around the world quiet the chaos of everyday life, stress less and appreciate more. In the book, Masuno—chief priest of the 450-year-old Kenko¯-ji Temple in Japan—offers forthright advice rooted in the teachings of Zen, which, he writes, is “about habits, ideas, and hints for living a happy life.”
Divided into four parts, the book provides practical steps for becoming more present, as well as suggestions for building confidence and letting go of anxiety. Masuno’s tips are easy to execute. Simple changes—like waking up 15 minutes earlier than usual to savor the morning, or creating a pocket of quiet at work by doing a “chair zazen” (sitting up straight and breathing slowly)—will make a difference in your daily flow. Spare, evocative line drawings by artist Harriet Lee-Merrion accompany each lesson. Through this inspiring guide, Masuno shows that every step you take on the path of personal growth, no matter how small, can have a major impact.
Personal growth can be a faith-based process—one that often involves unexpected changes of heart, as bestselling author Barbara Brown Taylor demonstrates in Holy Envy: Finding God in the Faith of Others. Taylor, a professor of religion at Piedmont College in Demorest, Georgia, is candid about the ways in which teaching has informed her faith. Over time, her own Christian views have shifted.
“I found things to envy in all of the traditions I taught,” Taylor writes. In Holy Envy, she shares stories of spiritual discovery from campus and beyond, mixing accounts of classroom life into astute considerations of the world’s differing belief systems. She wants her students to recognize that “religion is more than a source of conflict or a calculated way to stay out of hell. Religions are treasure chests of stories, songs, rituals, and ways of life that have been handed down for millennia.” On field trips, Taylor and her students visit houses of worship in their many forms—synagogues and mosques, shrines and centers for meditation—and the excursions prove transformative. Heartfelt, thoughtful and beautifully written, Taylor’s book will give readers who are undertaking their own spiritual journeys a sense of purpose and perspective.