How to live in the present and the best books on mindfulness

In the fast-paced world we live in today, our minds rarely seem to be in the present. When you really think about it, we live a lot of life in the future or in the past, worrying about what’s already happened, or worrying about what’s going to happen. We find ourselves ruminating on things we cannot change and are left unable to fully engage with life, missing out on the present. So what can you do to savor the here and now? The answer is mindfulness.

Illustration of person reading book

What is mindfulness?

The goal of mindfulness is not about emptying your mind but being aware of the present and living in the now. By changing your mindset and practicing meditation you can unlock the power to focus on the moment rather than be stuck in the past or the future, lost in time and hence losing time. Mindfulness allows us to be aware of what we need to let go of in order to enjoy what we have in front of us.

What are the benefits of mindfulness?

In addition to cultivating a positive and fulfilling mindset within your life, practicing mindfulness has been shown to improve physical health, and reduce anxiety, panic and depression. It can help improve your ability to regulate your emotions so that you can deal with stressful situations more effectively. Finally, it promotes more focused concentration to the things you do, as well as creating a heightened sense of awareness of how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking.

With this in mind, what are some of the best books on mindfulness that can help unlock all its benefits?

Reviews of the best books on mindfulness

1. Mindfulness for Beginners, Jon Kabat-Zinn

Mindfulness For Beginners cover

Mindfulness for Beginners is written by one of the rockstars of mindfulness itself, Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn. If you’re new to the practice or perhaps just looking to explore it a bit more, this is the book for you. It is well written, short, and easy to digest, with the first half talking about what mindfulness is, explaining the connect and validating from a scientific perspective. The second part gives you exercises to practice, with simple, guided meditations that are easy to follow.

It is a simple and yet powerful introduction to mindfulness and meditation, and cuts through the fluff you might find in other guides. Like when Kabat-Zinn explains what mindfulness isn’t:

"Those who try to pick up meditation thinking they will be like the Dali Lama might as well stop. They have no chance of pulling that off.”

A mindfulness book can often veer into vague and obscure territory, so it’s refreshing to be grounded in a degree of directness that leaves us with a realistic expectation, and achievable goals.

2. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Eckhart Tolle

The Power Of Now cover

The Power of Now is a quick, easy to understand read that can really help change your life.

On living in the present and gaining spiritual enlightenment, The Power of Now provides a simple, yet effective message: living in the present is the purest way to true happiness and an enlightened sense of being. The author, Eckhart Tolle explains how for most people, everything they do in their lives is driven by time: we put ourselves on schedules, make sure we’re at a particular place by a certain time, and it’s the first thing we check when we wake. In this mindset, we set ourselves up to worry about something that happened in the past or something that could potentially happen in the future.

Against this worry for the future or pain over the past, The Power of Now challenges us to come to a state of surrender, by accepting life for its current reality and searching within. It's only in that state of surrender that we can truly discover internal calm. Looking to a person, place or thing won’t bring us to that state of peace: real inner peace comes from the inside.

3. 10% Happier, Dan Harris

10% Happier cover

Dan Harris is an anchor and journalist on ABC, and his book, 10% Happier tells the story of his life on camera. We see Dan from a young age wanting to be on television, and subsequently working his way up the news desk. However, through his work and time spent documenting natural disasters, several mass shootings and reporting from numerous combat zones, he begins to suffer PTSD, culminating in a panic attack whilst on television. Looking for a way to restore his sense of being and inner-calm, Dan finds himself on the path to mindfulness.

Harris’s writing is intelligent, witty, fast-paced and informative, but this book might be especially for you if you are slightly skeptical of mindfulness yourself. Harris was a skeptic himself, cynical of the practice and fully addresses the reservations he had before. There’s a lot of logical explanation in this book that will make you want to try it out too, since joining him on his journey from the lows of life before mindfulness and then seeing the positive impact it had on him makes for captivating reading. It also teaches certain meditation techniques to help you on your own personal journey, such as short breathing exercises that help you focus on the present.

4. Wherever You Go, There You Are, Jon Kabat-Zinn

Wherever You Go cover

Written in short chapters that makes this an easy book to dip in and out of, Wherever You Go shares many lessons on meditation mindfulness, and is a great option for people curious and interested in the practice.

It asks us to look at our environment in a new way, to look at the sky and the stars and appreciate the beauty of the present moment. Kabat-Zinn also goes into the practicalities of meditation, which I personally found to be greatly liberating. Many people think that for meditation to be effective you need to give it a respectable amount of time like half an hour for example - however, Kabat-Zinn says that doesn’t have to be the case, and it was invaluable to discover how to have rewarding and impactful sessions even in just five or ten minutes of meditation.

Ultimately the book asks you to identify what is creating distance between you and your life and from experiencing life directly. Of course only you can answer that, but Wherever You Go, There You Are is a great start to figuring this out.

5. Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World, Danny Penman

Mindfulness: An Eight-Week Plan for Finding Peace in a Frantic World cover

This book is based on Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy, which has been clinically proven to treat depression and anxiety, stress exhaustion. It introduces an eight-week programme that offers simple yet powerful practices to incorporate into your daily life.

The preliminary chapters take us through how mindfulness can help silence the inner-voice that’s continually sowing criticism and doubt, and the fact that we all have this critic inside that we have to deal with. The next chapters take us through the eight-week course: there are specific exercises for each individual week, consisting of 10 - 20 minutes daily sessions using the simple meditations found at the core of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy.

The programme is easy to follow, and when adhered to properly can generate great results. For those looking for a straightforward plan for mindfulness, this comes highly recommended.

Conclusion

Mindfulness is a simple, yet powerful approach to effecting positive change in your day-to-day. There are many books and guides out there on the subject, but if you’re looking to introduce this practice into your life, the publications above are the best mindfulness books around, providing a firm foundation to a new consciousness focused on living in the present, and with a fuller existence.