It’s been awhile since I’ve put a Recommended Readings post together and, while I have been sharing them on Twitter, I thought it was time to put one up on the site. This post includes books on the neuroscience of trauma, learning and habits, consciousness and embodied cognition, and how to be more present. Enjoy!

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel van der Kolk

The best book I’ve read on explaining how trauma affects and changes not only the nervous system but also one’s physical experience. Those who have lost their sense of the emotional-psychic self have also lost physical connection with their own body, and vice versa, something we should be looking for as clinicians.
Even if you don’t work or interact with those who’ve suffered trauma (which is unlikely considering one in five children have experienced sexual trauma, one in four children were beaten by a parent, and one in three couples engage in physical violence), this book brings to light how poorly mental health is treated by traditional Western medicine and ways in which we can improve the health of the mind thru the health of the body. I recommend this book to clients and clinicians on a weekly basis. 

“We may be treating today, experiences that happened fifty years ago.”

Body & Mature Behavior: A Study of Anxiety, Sex, Gravitation, & Learning by Moshe Feldenkrais

​I have become quite enamored with Feldenkrais’s work which I first came across in The Brain’s Way of Healing. His methods of slow, exploratory movements to break habitual and compulsive patterns of behavior make sense from a neuroplastic perspective and he was clearly a man well ahead of his time. In Body & Mature Behavior he describes how neural outputs can be reinstated by the autonomic nervous system, postural and muscular patterns, and emotions, either in isolation or in combination. This is essentially the concept of neurotags long before that word became part of our lexicon. He holds learning as the key to “mature” behavior and discusses embodied cognition and spatial perceptions in great and poetic detail. 

“Many physical and mental failings are not diseases but rather a faulty mode of doing.”

The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness by Antonio Damasio

As the back cover of the book espouses, Damasio is truly an elegant writer and writes in The Feeling of What Happens, which is somewhat a classic of neuroscience having been published in 2000, about the neurobiological underpinnings of the self. He discusses eloquently how we create the neurological representation of the body and its role in the stability of the self. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on Emotion and Feeling in which he explores the differences between the two and how they fit into the levels of self-regulation. It is really an engrossing read on how consciousness is a necessary component of human’s ability to maintain homeostasis within changing environments. 

“consciousness is good for extending the mind’s reach and, in so doing, improving the life of the organism whose mind has that higher reach”

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

While not scientific, I am a huge fan of Eckhart Tolle’s starting with his first book The Power of Now. In A New Earth he writes on how, in order to evolve as a human, one must first become aware of and then ascend beyond the ego-based consciousness. He describes in detail how we become attached to our ego thru labels and possessions and this distorts our view, not only of ourselves, but of the world at large. Many people become so identified with this egoic mind, the voice in the head, that they are unable to live in a state of consciousness that does not involve “I”. Awareness is the key to awakening. 

When you don’t cover up the world with words and labels, a sense of the miraculous returns to your life that was lost a long time ago when humanity, instead of using thought, became possessed by thought.”

Look for even more books to be added to the Recommended Readings soon.

– Seth

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