Biologically Mindful Books

The Wisdom of the Body, by Sherwin B. Nuland, 1997. Dr. Nuland (1930-2014) wrote about the body in a spirit quite similar to what’s expressed here. As a physician who practiced for many years (rather than just a few, like me), he was more invested in the biomedical perspective and less inclined to speculation and lyricism. But in his sober, precise way, he was advocating awe and appreciation for the body just as surely as MindfulBiology does.

Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, by Kristin Neff, 2011. Dr. Neff’s writings played a decisive role in the final stages of MindfulBiology’s development. Finding compassion for one’s body is key to the whole approach.

Waking Up to the Dark: Ancient Wisdom for a Sleepless Age, by Clark Strand, 2015. Many MindfulBiology ideas first arose in the dark of night. Unable to sleep, meditating through the hours, insights that seemed fresh and necessary came to mind. This creativity often felt beyond myself, as if emerging from a well of inspiration available only to insomniacs, and only in the middle of the night. Strand’s book informs me that this is the natural, if lost, human state. Our ancestors lived without artificial lighting, and each night they awoke during the ‘Hour of God’ and learned important truths. The second half of Waking Up to the Dark reads like a manifesto, as a call for humanity to return to its roots, to its primal connection with rhythms and with Earth. Strand argues that such a return is essential if our species is to survive. MindfulBiology is a response to that profound yearning for healing, and perhaps it can serve as a key to help us unlock those gates—of our own construction—that separate us from our bodies and the Nature that gives them birth.

Life Unfolding: How the Human Body Creates Itself, by Jamie A. Davies, 2014. Written from a solidly mechanistic perspective, this work nevertheless leaves one feeling awed by the delicate dance of human development. How remarkable that we all grew in this way, from a single cell into an incomprehensibly complex organism!

Life’s Engines: How Microbes Made Earth Habitable, by Paul G. Falkowski, 2015. This book will take you down the rabbit hole, showing you the way life is powered at its deepest levels, and how that power reveals our profound kinship with all life on earth.

Life’s Solution: Inevitable Humans in a Lonely Universe, by Simon Conway Morris, 2004. Rather than seeing evolution as utterly unpredictable, a view advocated by the late Harvard naturalist Stephen Jay Gould (whose writings are also well worth reading), the Cambridge paleobiologist Conway Morris points out that life has repeatedly arrived at similar solutions to recurring problems. In his view, life evolving on any planet would, given favorable circumstances, eventually produce a species with human-like intellectual capacities, as well as species roughly similar to all the major forms that have arisen on Earth over the eons. This is relevant to the MindfulBiology project, which does not take any strong metaphysical stance but does look at life as deeply meaningful. It seems to me that meaning is easier to find when complex life and advanced consciousness are viewed as inevitable outcomes rather than unrepeatable quirks (though I grant that opinions will differ on this point).

Arrival of the Fittest: How Nature Innovates, by Andreas Wagner, 2014. Wagner gives a readable account of the way computational biology (the use of mathematics to explore deep principles behind living systems), helps us understand the way evolution solves problems. Combined with Simon Conway Morris’s book mentioned above, it leaves one with a mysterious sense that life is operating by complex rules we only dimly understand, i.e, it leaves one awed.

The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, by Daniel Lieberman, 2013. A terrific discussion of how the body evolved in response to lifestyle, going back to the earliest hominids. It also discusses points of mismatch between human body systems and the modern world, which lead to major public health issues, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, back problems, dental disease, etc.

When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection, by Gabor Mate, 2011. Dr. Mate explores the mind-body connection from the perspective of early life stress and its effects on later health. He cites numerous studies that show correlations between impaired emotional expression, early life hardship, and development of illness. He also explains how we can reverse these trends, even as adults.

Yoga from the Inside Out: Making Peace with Your Body through Yoga, by Christina Sell. This book combines personal narrative with a profound understanding of yoga. It shows how a deeply mindful yoga practice can improve the mind-body relationship, changing it from one of aggression to one of affection. Its spirit is very close to that of MindfulBiology, but with an emphasis on yoga rather than life science.

Aging as a Spiritual Practice, by Lewis Richmond. Written by a Zen Buddhist priest, this little book shows how even as the body winds down toward end of life, it offers us opportunities for growth, wisdom, and appreciation. Personally, I find that my life is getting more satisfying with age, not less. Richmond’s book is full of observations and meditations to help us find ease as the years advance.