A Spiritual Journey in Books

I purposefully craft my spirituality and worldview from a combination of fiction, recovery and mindfulness books, scientific research, biographies, spiritual writings and whatever else I might come across that adds to my life and helps me grow. I do not have allegiance to any one book, writer, or philosophy because I believe that “the truth lies in the combined perspective and experiences of all stakeholders” (HS Systems Health Principle #4). The more I read, the clearer it becomes that there are no new spiritual ideas, just new ways of explaining them that tend to align with the culture of the time in which they were written.

The following titles consist of favorite books I have read from when I was 10 years old to the present, and includes fiction and non-fiction. The titles are arranged in the order I have read them, with the most recent first – my spiritual journey in books. Each title has a link to information about the book on Goodreads. I read lots of books, but only the ones that help me significantly adjust my perspective for the better make this list. If it’s on the list, you can be sure that I really loved it. I am currently in the process of doing descriptions of why I enjoyed each book, so feel free to check back again for more info 🙂

You can search for a particular book on this page by hitting Control + F on your keyboard. A little box will appear in the bottom left-hand corner of your internet browser in which you can type a word or two in the book title. Then press hit Enter to highlight all the instances of that word or phrase.

A Way Through Wilderness: Growing in Faith When Life Is Hard by Rob Renfroe (Spirituality)

I was talking to a woman one day about how uncomfortable spiritual growth can be, and she told me about this book and how it got her through her time in jail. I figured that it must be a REALLY inspirational book if it could help somebody with spiritual growth while being stuck in an 8×10 cell.

It IS a really inspirational book, and it helped me understand how I use all kinds of things to escape from my pain and how that kind of escape stunts my spiritual growth and makes the pain worse. Renfroe, a Methodist Minister, uses the Bible story of Moses wandering through the desert with the Israelites to illustrate the most effective way to deal with our own “wildernesses” – times and spaces in our lives when we are in a lot of pain and do not know how to proceed. He makes the point that walking through the wilderness, trusting in God (I believe you could substitute “universe”, “higher power”, “spirit”, or whatever your preferred term is), and asking for help enables us to learn and grow. Many of us (myself included) choose to numb or distract with alcohol, drugs, food, shopping, gambling, and other substances or activities that help us escape our reality.

At a time when I was in a lot of emotional pain and was experiencing a lot of anxiety and feeling very unsure and confused about the way forward, the lessons in this book made me feel more confident that my fear and discomfort were part of a spiritual growth process, and not an indicator that I was doing everything wrong.

Knowing Woman: A Feminine Psychology by Irene Claremont de Castillejo (Philosophy, Psychology)

Irene Claremont De Castillejo worked closely with Karl Jung and developed her own psychology and philosophy of the human mind based on his ideas. In this book, she presents her ideas about the feminine mind, which she refers to as the “anima”. Regardless of gender or non-gender, she proposes that we all have an anima, (as well as an animus, the masculine approach), which is primarily driven to create safe spaces and connections. I especially loved the first chapter on what she calls “meetings”, which are instances when two people connect completely authentically, without defense or pretense. Meetings can happen between any two people, and do not depend on how long they have known each other, or what they have shared in the past. I am delighted that Claremont de Castillejo has conceptualized one of my favorite experiences in life: an instance of authentic connection with a total stranger. We could share joke, a smile, or do a small service for each other – whatever it is, it’s the thing that can turn my entire day around when it happens. All I have to do is remain present and open, which, as we have all experienced, is simple but not easy.

Life After Life by Raymond Moody (Scientific Research, Spirituality)

I found this book because Sagyal Rinpoche mentioned it in his book, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (which I am not adding to this list because I did not like it for various reasons which I will not go into because this is a list of what I DO like, not what I don’t like). Raymond Moody is considered to be the “father” of research on near-death experiences (NDEs) and Life After Life, published in the 1970s, is his description of his collection of NDE stories, story themes, and tentative conclusions he has drawn from his research.

In case you are not familiar, NDEs have been reported by a percentage of people who have clinically died, or come very close to clinical death, and consist of certain common elements: an experience of their soul leaving their body, observing worldly activities as an invisible entity, experiencing an extremely thorough and instantaneous review of their life, going through a dark tunnel to a bright white light, and/or communicating with an all-loving, all-knowledgeable being of light. When the individual returns to life, they tend to find that the NDE has changed their perspective and values so profoundly that they feel compelled to radically change their thinking and behavior in ways that reflect love and kindness to themselves and others.

Life After Life is an absolute delight to read. Moody is an excellent and thorough researcher, which is reflected in his stories, research themes, and humility and caution about his findings. Even if you don’t believe that the NDEs are “real” (whatever “real” means to you), the lessons that we can learn from NDEs are invariably useful and taken together, an excellent guide to living a full, joyful, and loving existence on Earth.

The Sermon on the Mount: The Key to Success in Life by Emmet Fox (Spirituality)

I found this book when I was trying to organize the various stacks of books in our house. I hadn’t seen it before, so I asked my husband about it and he told me that he had bought it a few years ago because old-timers in his 12-step recovery meetings talk about it as foundational to the inception of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the first 12-step recovery group, after which all other 12-step groups are modeled. Intrigued, I decided to read it and was totally blown away.

Emmet Fox interprets Jesus’ sermon on the mount, particularly as described in the Book of Matthew in the Bible, from a New Thought perspective. In case you are not familiar (and I was not), New Thought (according to the Wikipedia page) is the name of a movement that came together in the early 1800s and is based on “mind over matter”: the idea that our minds are more powerful than matter. I would say that several books in this list fall into this category (some with a blend of Buddhist thought, which is a different flavor, but not, in my opinion, in conflict with New Thought), including Freedom from the Known by J. Krishnamurti, Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda, The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav, Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss, Quantum Healing by Deepak Chopra, A Course in Miracles, Feeling is the Secret by Neville Goddard, The Cartoon Utopia by Ron Rege, Jr., and The Law of Attraction by Abraham.

I love this book because I can see now where 12-step recovery steps and traditions, so central to my recovery and heavily informing my work and teaching, come from. According to the Wikipedia page on Emmet Fox, Fox’s secretary was the mother of one of the founders of AA, and founding members of AA regularly attended Fox’s sermons at the Divine Science Church of the Healing Christ. I have often wondered how in the world the founding members came up with the steps and traditions, which I think are brilliant, and now I know.

Healing the Child Within: Discovery and Recovery for Adult Children of Dysfunctional Families by Charles L. Whitfield (Self-Help)

Healing the Child Within is the best self-help book I’ve read to date. I found it because I have been researching codependency for a book chapter I’m writing on leadership in social work and social care and the author, Whitfield, wrote what I believe are some of the best scientific articles on codependency. Whitfield was one of the first researchers and practitioners to address codependency and his research tends to view codependency from a strengths-based perspective as opposed to seeing it as a medical or personality disorder. I appreciate the strengths-based perspective because I struggle with codependency and would personally rather be seen as a strong, capable human being challenged with a difficult set of behavior patterns, rather than a medical case. I also believe a strengths-based perspective offers more hope and choices for recovery.

The premise of Healing the Child Within is that adults who were raised in dysfunctional families, especially those with members who struggled with drug or alcohol addiction, tend to have unresolved anger and grief that must be processed and resolved before the person can live a full and joyful life. Whitfield provides an assessment and information in the opening chapters to first help the reader determine if they were raised in a dysfunctional family environment, and then offers research-based pathways to healing. Unlike many self-help books I have read, Healing the Child Within carries a message of love and hope throughout. Whitfield is able to accurately describe the dynamics of a dysfunctional system without blaming or shaming the individuals who were part of that system. His writing is clear and accessible, with excellent suggestions for recovery – and it’s all based on his own personal and professional experience, as well as scientific research. Do not be deterred by the (in my opinion) strange illustration on the front – this book is a classic.

Religion: A Very Short Introduction by Thomas A. Tweed (Religion & History)

This book is one from the Oxford “Very Short Introduction” series, which is fantastic. I read and reviewed another “Very Short Introduction” book on the Abrahamic Religions, which you can read below. I thought Tweed did a nice job of giving a necessarily broad overview of religion and the part it has played in world events, both helpful and hurtful. I found that the most useful part of the book was the first chapter, wherein Tweed talks about the difficulties in defining what religion is and his process of developing a definition. He offers a definition but does not insist upon it; he defines religion as “confluences of organic-cultural flows that intensify joy and and confront suffering by drawing on human and suprahuman forces to make homes and cross boundaries.” I personally do not agree with this definition, partly because I think it’s not accessible, and because I think it leaves out important aspects of what religion is. If I were to define religion, I might say that it is “politicized spirituality” or “collective spirituality with government”, but my definitions may carry too much negative connotations.

Another of Tweed’s ideas used to describe how religion works, that I thought was particularly useful, was borrowed from physics. He talks about “cohesion”, which is the force that holds like substances together, and “adhesion”, which is the force that binds unlike substances. Tweed asserts that religion can be cohesive, creating attachments between members, and at its best and most useful, adhesive, creating positive bonds with individuals and groups outside of the religion.

The last thing I really loved about Tweed’s treatment of religion was in the last chapter, where he talks about the role of the internet in religion and religious practices. He characterizes the primary problem of the way the internet works for us right now as eliminating our privacy while not making space for true intimacy, which is the best explanation of why I have a love-hate relationship with social media.

I would recommend this book if you are interested in a VERY broad overview of what religion is, how it works, and the history of religion in world affairs.

Freedom from the Known by J. Krishnamurti (Spiritual Health)

I came across J. Krishnamurti’s work in You Are Enough by Panache Desai (see below), and 40 Key Teachings of A Course in Miracles by Mike Saedlo. I have not finished 40 Key Teachings yet; I started it because Mike Saedlo was scheduled to come to one of the sessions of A Course in Miracles discussion group I attend. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to attend the session, but I still intend to finish the book. Freedom from the Known is a collection of Krishnamurti’s talks on various subjects, including fear, violence, love, relationships, and much more. I love this book because it is very short and very dense – Krishnamurti does not waste words and thus does not waste your time. His talks are similar to the Buddha’s teachings on mindfulness, but in a more up-to-date language and with consideration of the modern environment (well, more modern than Buddha’s time; the book was originally published in 1969). What struck me the most was Krishnamurti’s talk on authority, and how we are always looking outside ourselves for validation and to know that we are “doing it right”. He tells us that the “right” answer is always inside of ourselves and that we should be our own authority. As someone who has struggled with authority, I felt validated by Krishnamurti’s take. After many years of therapy, 12-step recovery, and mindfulness practice, I have come to believe that the person with the most knowledge about a problem should be the primary decision-maker on how to solve it. This means that if I have a problem, I know how best to solve it. If somebody else has a problem, I need to give them space to solve it on their own. As I was reading his book, I remembered a Buddhist quote that I have heard many times, but which took on new meaning after I finished Freedom from the Known: “I am a finger pointing to the moon; don’t look at me, look at the moon.” Krishnamurti, like the Buddha, insists that he is a guide, not an authority. In my work and personal life, I work on staying humble enough to remember that I am also a guide for others, and only an authority when it comes to my own life.

You Are Enough by Panache Desai (Spiritual Health)

I found this book while browsing through the spiritual section in my local library. When I read it, it was not so much revelatory as validating; it felt like Desai and I are on the same wavelength in how we think about life and relationships. He refers to our “Essential Self”, the authentic, divine, and inherently valuable self we all have, and our “created self”, the false self we create to protect our ego. One of my favorite ideas from his book is when he talks about the purpose behind a healthy spiritual practice, which is to “dissolve the created self – the false, fabricated, fear-based self that you’ve created over a lifetime out of the misdirected belief that you are not enough – and move closer to the soul and truth.” At the end of the book, Desai summarizes his content in five commitments we can take to fully enjoy and connect with our Essential Self: 1) to know our Essential Self; 2) to create a new, non-victimized understanding of our past, present, and future; 3) to inner peace; 4) to fulfillment; and 5) to unlimited possibilities.

Yoga Cure by Bishnu Ghosh (Physical Health)

About two years ago (2021), I got really into yoga. I had just experienced a mental meltdown and was looking for a healthy way to process a lot of uncomfortable emotion and I knew that I had enjoyed yoga in the past. I found one place near me, the Yoga Factory in Annapolis, Maryland, that was operating despite the difficulties associated with pandemic public regulations. I completed my first Bikram Yoga class, a series of 26 intense postures in a very hot (about 110 degrees Fahrenheit) room, while wearing a mask – not the most pleasant way to start out, but despite the discomfort, I was hooked. I had avoided Bikram Yoga for years because I felt intimated by the reports of intensity and heat and I had heard a bit about Bikram’s poor conduct with students, including allegations of sexual harassment and rape.

I recently watched the documentary “Bikram: Yogi, Guru, Predator” to learn more about the issues around Bikram and his teaching. In the documentary, they interviewed one of Bikram’s peers when they were both students of Bishnu Ghosh, a Yogananda’s brother (see below for information about “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Yogananda). The student who was interviewed showed the interviewer a pamphlet by Ghosh, which showed a series of postures that looked very similar to Bikram’s series, and also included the signature savasana resting pose pattern in between each active pose. Had Bikram learned Ghosh’s technique and then brought it to the United States, calling it his own without giving credit to his teacher, as his peer alleged? I purchased the pamphlet PDF online from the Ghosh Yoga School in India to see if Bikram had actually “stolen” his method from Ghosh. In my humble opinion, he did not. Only about half of the postures are the same, and Bikram arranged them very purposefully to accommodate the culture, interests, and needs of people in the United States.

If I consider the Human Systems Healthy Operating Principle #1 (Everybody is doing the best they can with what they have and what they know), I believe that Bikram deserves full for his series and all of the work he did to bring it to the United States and teach people this very effective spiritual exercise technique. I suspect that Bikram was emotionally and spiritually unprepared for the immense pressure and loneliness associated with owning and business and being famous and revered, and thus acted out in ways that were harmful to himself and others. I am grateful for his work and wish both him, and the people he helped and hurt, the very best.

The Abrahamic Relgions: A Very Short Introduction by Charles L. Cohen (Historical Analysis)

Periodically I visit my local library and look around in the religious/spiritual section when I need some inspiration and I came across this little book, part of Oxford publishing’s “A Very Short Introduction” series, on a super broad array of topics, from accounting to Zionism. Cohen’s book gave an objective overview of the history of and similarities and differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Though I was somewhat aware of the relationship between Judaism and Christianity, I was not aware of how all three of these religions were intertwined and how their histories contribute to how I might perceive them today.

All About Buddhism: A Modern Introduction to an Ancient Spiritual Tradition by Shravasti Dhammika (Spirituality)

I came across this book when I was deep into the scientific research on mindfulness and mindfulness models and theory. One of the articles I read seemed particularly clear about Buddhist philosophy, so I checked the reference and bought the book. All About Buddhism was written by an Australian monk and originally published in 1990, which seems to be about when a lot of books on Buddhist-informed and Westernized mindfulness were first coming out in the U.S. Not only does Dhammika offer an accessible and thorough account of Buddhist spiritual teachings, but he also offers a very useful guide to the entire body of original Buddhist teachings, called the Tipitaka, which include three “baskets” of information: The Basket of Discourses (Sutta Pitaka), The Basket of Discipline (Vinaya Pitaka), and The Basket of Analysis (Abhidhamma Pitaka). As I write this, I am reading the Dhammapeda (Path of Dhamma), the most popular and well-known part of the Tipitaka, which is also only one tiny piece (but trust me, it’s long enough to feel like a big piece). The context of an idea is just as important to me as the idea itself, so Dhammaka’s detailed explanation and accompanying chart of the whole Tipitaka was very helpful for me. Aside from the context, the book itself is a wonderful and delightfully written spiritual resource. And, in case you are interested in learning more about the Tipitaka as a whole, you can find what I believe is an excellent free guide online by the Buddha Dharma Education Association, Inc., called Guide to Tipitaka, compiled by U Ko Lay (156-page PDF download).

There’s a Hole in My Sidewalk: The Romance of Self-Discovery by Portia Nelson (Poetry, Personal Growth)

This is a delightful little book of poetry published in the 1990s. It starts with the now-classic poem “Autobiography in Five Short Chapters” or, as I like to think of it, “The Hole in the Sidewalk Poem” (you can read the poem in the first review on the Good Reads page to which the book is linked). Following the “Autobiography” poem, there are five chapters of poems that illustrate each stanza in the poem. Nelson uses poetry to describe her journey from using others as a source of acceptance and joy to finding acceptance and joy within herself. The poems are passionate, funny, sad – they cover a whole range of emotions and flavors. It’s a short read, but it’s worth reading a few times over.

The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have by Mark Nepo (Spiritual, Daily Reader)

This is my favorite daily reader right now. If you are not familiar, a daily reader is a collection of readings for every day of the year, organized by date. I use them as part of my daily spiritual practice right after I wake up, along with journaling and meditation.

Mark Nepo writes beautifully and is also a talented poet. His entries speak to my soul. More often than not, I will read the entry for the day and I will be startled at how useful it is for the particular challenges I am facing that day. Nepo uses his own experiences, relationships, and media to bring us golden nuggets of wisdom.

One of my favorite recent entries is from August 26 where he describes a scene from the movie Phenomenon wherein the main character is becoming frustrated because something is eating all the vegetables in his garden. He keeps building more elaborate fences, ones that go deep into the ground, but the problem just gets worse. One night, he sits in his garden all night to see how the creature could possibly be getting in and he discovers that a rabbit has been inside the garden the whole time because he trapped it there with his big fences. All he had to do was wait for it to emerge and then open the gate.

At the time I was reading this, I had been working hard on surrender – both letting go of beliefs and energy that was not serving me anymore, and also being vulnerable and defenseless so the good things the universe has to offer me can come in. This entry helped me understand that walling up my heart might keep difficult things out, but it also keeps all the painful things inside. The solution is, as Nepo writes, to “open the gate to your heart and wait. Breathe and wait.” The scared rabbits will emerge in the stillness and scurry out – they are not harmful to anybody else, just to me, and only if I trap them inside.

What Is an Emotion? Classic and Contemporary Readings by Robert C. Solomon (Philosophy and Psychology)

I found this book because a participant in one of my HS Emotion Wheels & Needs Wheels MiniCert recommended Solomon’s Passions: Philosophy and the Intelligence of Emotions from The Great Courses, a history of how humans think and write about emotion. It sounded amazing, but I strongly prefer reading instead of listening, so I searched around and found What is an Emotion, Solomon’s collection of essays and writings about emotions, all the way from Aristotle to when the book was published in the late 1990s. This collection was so helpful for me in providing context around current research and philosophical thinking on emotions and showed me, once again, that it’s hard to find truly new idea. Instead, ideas get reworked and recombined according to the culture and needs of the day. Regardless, Solomon’s collection of essays enabled me to make more connections between emotions, thinking, action, and perspective that in turn helped me improve the HS Emotion Wheels & Needs Wheels MiniCert, as well as develop a few new worksheets and tools.

Mindfulness by Ellen Langer (Psychology)

I read this book over 30 years after it was originally published, and I wish I had found it 10 years ago. Langer describes a Western conception of mindfulness by exploring the results of several studies on mindfulness and cognition that she did in the 1980s. She describes how we tend to focus on the content of something, disregarding the context – we hear something and either disregard it or take it as truth without fully thinking it through. Or, we become overly focused on the outcome rather than the process – we become obsessed with a particular result, which causes us to be inflexible and close-minded. When I finally got around to reading it, I felt very validated because I have come to believe so many ideas that she talks about in her book. I probably would have been more excited if I had been able to read it 10 years ago, when I was just getting started on my current path with Human Systems. Regardless, Mindfulness is a great introduction to a Western conceptualization of mindfulness, supported by scientific research.

Autobiography of a Yogi by Yogananda (Autobiographies/Spiritual Growth)

This is a delightful, magical, sweet, authentic account by Paramahansa Yogananda about his life in India working with spiritual masters, and his later work in the United States, bringing “Orient” spirituality to the “Occident”. In Autobiography of a Yogi, we get a lush story of the spiritual development of an exceptional individual from India, as well as several stories about other Indian gurus and spiritual masters throughout the world. Though Yogananda died in the 1950s, the Self-Realization Fellowship, one of his many spiritual contributions to the world, carries on with a publishing house, workshops, and spiritual guidance and services. This book is full of timeless wisdom and beautiful, magical stories. Read it and enjoy an escape into a land where miracles happen all the time and anything is possible.

The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav (Spiritual Growth)

Seat of the Soul reads a bit like The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle – very simply and powerfully written, not referring to any outside sources or experiences, almost like a lecture. Zukav’s argument is that we are evolving from “five-sense” beings that seek power outside of ourselves to “multisensory” beings that acknowledge the divine power inside of ourselves. The divine power we find inside ourselves, aided by various energetic powers in the universe, is called “authentic power”. I found Zukav’s treatment of “marriage” versus “spiritual partnership” especially interesting. He writes that the traditional institution of marriage was developed to aid our physical survival and now that (for many of us on earth) our day-to-day physical needs are easily met, we can develop spiritual partnerships – commitments between individuals based on inherent equality, with the goal of spiritual growth. I also really enjoyed his writings about addictions, especially sexual addiction. Apparently, Zukav struggled with sex and drug addiction quite a bit when he was younger, and has clearly brought his interpretation of those experiences to his book. This book reminds me of the philosophy behind Codependents Anonymous – that the cure for our addictions to people places and things lies in our spiritual growth and acknowledgement of internal power. The edition of Seat of the Soul that I read included a study guide at the back with questions to help the reader put the ideas in the book into practice, which I found interesting and helpful.

Sacred Contracts by Caroline Myss (Spiritual Growth)

This book was recommended to me by one of Myss’ Spiritual Directors, Melissa, who is certified in Caroline Myss materials. I set up an appointment with Melissa after I read Myss’ book Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing (see below) and I loved it so much I thought “I want to chat with this lady.” I didn’t realize how popular she was until I found her website online and decided one of her proteges would probably be more accessible to me. Melissa is wonderful and she suggested that I read Sacred Contracts so I could learn how to create my archetypal wheel. This book is just a lot of fun, and also really smart. Myss has her masters in theology and has been studying world religions, spirituality, myths, and other soul-related matter for many years. Her knowledge and expertise, coupled with her experience as a medical intuitive, led her to create her archetypal wheel tool, a method you can use to do your own readings and gain insight and wisdom from your Higher Power, God, the Universe, your unconscious, or whatever entity with which you identify. Creating an archetypal wheel is an involved and complex process, but it’s a wonderful way to honor and love yourself, as well as gain intellectual and spiritual knowledge about your path in life and the meaning of your relationships. I also love Myss’ bedside manner – completely open, non-judgmental, wise, loving, direct, and no-nonsense.

The Perennial Philosophy by Aldous Huxley (Spiritual Growth)

This book is my new favorite spiritual book, replacing A Course in Miracles. Aldous Huxley is most well-known for his book Brave New World, a dystopian science fiction novel exploring the dangers of technological advance without spiritual growth. I first read Brave New World when I was in high school and I absolutely loved it – I’ve read it a few times since. But back to Perennial Philosophy. In this book, Huxley demonstrates, through analysis of spiritual writings from thousands of years prior to the current day (the book was published in 1945) that all great spiritual writings agree on how to live your best life and ultimately reach Heaven (or Nirvana, or God, or whatever your preference is). I love this book first because it really demonstrates that (thus far, anyway), there are no new spiritual ideas, just new ways of saying them, which is incredibly comforting to me. I also love this book because Huxley is absolutely transparent about where he gets his spiritual ideas – in fact, that is the point of the book, to show that there is a “Perennial Philosophy”, an unchanging truth that, when we find it, will bring us closer to God. Huxley periodically inserts his own comparative analysis between his conception of the Perennial Philosophy and current affairs, some of which still feels relevant today, almost 80 years later. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel validated when he expressed his opinion about news outlets, saying that the Perennial Philosophy does not support “idle curiosity” for the purposes of “enhancing one’s ego.” I purposely do not pay attention to the news and I feel mildly guilty about it, so having one of my favorite authors tell me it’s okay from beyond the grave made my day, to put it mildly. His commentary on current affairs aside, Huxley’s book is, in my opinion, a work of genius. It covers all of the major ideas in popular spiritual books today and traces those ideas as far back to the source as Huxley’s research will allow. The writing is a bit stiff (I was written almost 80 years ago), but that’s a small price to pay for such incredible content.

Meister Eckhart’s Book of the Heart: Meditations for the Restless Soul by Jon M. Sweeney & Mark S. Burrows (Spiritual Growth)

I found Meister Eckhart, a spiritual master and mystic born in 1260, because he is mentioned by so many contemporary spiritual writers. I am always drawn to “source material” – I want to know where people get their ideas – and Meister Eckhart does not disappoint. I love this book, which is simply 196 meditations, or poems, on spirituality and God. I have been using it like a daily reader; I pick a poem, write it down in my journal, and then write a bit about what I believe it means and how I could apply the ideas that day. My favorite so far is one towards the end, called Then: “If I could/trust that/You are enough/I would know/that I am/enough.”

Anatomy of the Spirit: The Seven Stages of Power and Healing by Caroline Miss (Spiritual Growth)

Caroline Miss elegantly and powerfully combines the seven Hindu chakras, the seven Christian sacraments, and the Jewish Kabbalah’s Tree of Life to create what she calls the “seven sacred truths”, stages that Miss says everyone must pass through to reach spiritual maturity. When I was reading this book, I felt at times like I was reading my own truth and I could identify with a lot of the challenges Miss described in her case studies. Miss says she got her start when she discovered an unexplainable ability she had to diagnose people’s medical ailments using just their energy, but it seemed as though through her education and experience she had been preparing to be a mystic all her life. She not only diagnoses people’s medical ailments, but also their mental and emotional illnesses. I especially loved her explanation of how, in our culture today, we relate to each other through our “wounds”, which she calls “woundology”, and which to me sounds like the core of codependency. Our tendency to fall in love with each other’s weaknesses and illnesses, instead of each other’s whole selves, results in our fear and inability to heal our wounds and experience true spiritual growth. As a result, Miss explains that as a society we are collectively in the fourth chakra, learning how to heal our wounds and live from our hearts. If you are on a spiritual journey and are looking for validation and guidance, this book is for you.

My Stroke of Insight: A Brain Scientist’s Personal Journey by Jill Bolte Taylor (Autobiography, Spiritual Growth)

In this book, Taylor describes in minute detail what it felt like to have a stroke in her left brain. She believes that because the stroke happened in her left brain and her left-brain processes started shutting down, her right brain was able to more fully emerge and she experienced enlightenment. Over eight years, with a lot of hard work and an incredible support system, Taylor was able to fully recover while retaining the insights she received from her enlightenment. This book is great spiritual resource for anybody who feels uncomfortable with the idea of God and prefers to ground themselves in scientific understanding. Taylor links her enlightenment experience to specific processes in the brain, and in the last few chapters, offers practical ways to “step to the right”, or become more mindful and spiritual in
everyday life.

Care of the Soul: A Guide for Cultivating Depth and Sacredness in Everyday Life by Thomas Moore (Spiritual Growth)

This book is a bit dense and difficult to read, especially if you are not familiar with (or interested in) Greek mythology. In the tradition of Karl Jung, Thomas Moore explains the human condition in terms of archetypes and classic stories, including those of Narcissus and Odysseus. Even though the book can be difficult to read, it made my list because Moore approaches the human condition with unconditional love – he clearly believes the best of everybody and his book is like a love letter to the human race. The second reason I included it is because it is full of astounding, mind-blowing, truth-with-a-capital-T quotes that are like poetry. For example: “When we relate to our bodies as having soul, we attend to their beauty, their poetry and their expressiveness. Our very habit of treating the body as a machine, whose muscles are like pulleys and its organs engines, forces its poetry underground, so that we experience the body as an instrument and see its poetics only in illness.” And one that I believe sums up the major point of his book: “…to the soul, the most minute details and the most ordinary activities, carried out with mindfulness and art, have an effect far beyond their apparent insignificance.” Enjoy this book with a cup of tea and some biscuits next to a fire.

The Master and His Emissary: The Divided Brain and the Making of the Western World by Iain McGilchrist (Scientific Research and Exploration)
The Disappearance of the Universe and Your Immortal Reality: How to Break the Cycle of Birth by Gary R. Renard (Spiritual Growth)

Gary R. Renard wrote a series of three books to make the ideas in the cultishly popular A Course in Miracles more accessible and he does an absolutely brilliant job in these first two books. He presents himself as an average human, with a tendency towards the human, ego-driven defenses we all have. Throughout the book he tells jokes, and is unafraid to expose his most embarrassing human foibles, including a bellybutton fetish. The books are extremely easy to read. So easy, in fact, that I read the first one way to fast and created a bit of an existential crisis for myself (you have been warned). Each book is basically a transcription of lively and amusing conversations between Renard and two “ascended masters” who visit him from outside of time, Pursah and Arten. The conversations are interspersed with Renard’s experiences and his own opportunities to forgive himself and others, one of the main concepts presented in A Course in Miracles and the way, according to these books, to stop our cycle of birth and death and get to heaven (or nirvana, depending on your vocabulary preference). According to Renard, he wrote and published each book by following the instructions of Pursah and Arten, and he now travels the world, speaking and conducting workshops on the spiritual concepts from A Course in Miracles.

How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain: The New Science of Transformation by Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman (Scientific Research)
Daily Affirmations: Strengthening My Recovery Meditations by Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization (Self-Help, Spiritual Growth)
Adult Children of Alcoholics/Dysfunctional Family by Adult Children of Alcoholics World Service Organization (Self-Help, Spiritual Growth)
The Law of Attraction: The Basics of the Teachings of Abraham by Esther Hicks and Jerry Hicks (Spirituality)
Fascia: What it Is and Why it Matters by David Lesondak (Spiritual Growth)

I found this book through my local library when I was searching for books on chronic pain, about two years ago (March 2021). I was having a lot of hip and back pain and I was feeling very motivated to get relief. A few of the books I found talked about fascia, and I started looking around on the internet to find out what the fascia is. If you don’t know, fascia is the thin network of collagen that coats EVERYTHING in our bodies – all of our organs, muscles, every muscle fiber, every bone, everything. It allows the parts of our body to easily slide past each other when we move around, and it also creates an interconnected web that suspends us in space. You may have learned that it’s our skeletal system that holds us up. Nope, it’s the fascia, through a phenomenon known as “tensegrity”. If you are interested in tensegrity, I encourage you to visit YouTube and look for videos on the fascia and on tensegrity – it’s amazing.

Lesondak’s book was the best source I could find on fascia and how it works. Regarding my chronic pain, there is a growing school of thought that unprocessed emotion related to trauma lives in our body, and specifically in our fascia. I have had a fair share of trauma, so I decided to make an appointment with a myofascial release specialist. It’s kind of like massage, but gentler and focused on the fascia instead of the muscles.

I ended up having several appointments with the myofascial release specialist and between that, regular massage, yoga, and my recovery work, I can say today that I am almost pain-free. If you are interested in the fascia and how it works, I highly recommend Lesondak’s, and he also has a practice in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania and online if you are interested in making an appointment.

You Can Heal Your Life by Louise Hay (Spiritual Growth)
A Return to Love by Marianne Williamson (Spiritual Growth)
The Neverending Story by Michael Ende (Fantasy)
How to Love by Thich Nhat Hanh (Spiritual Growth)
The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer (Spiritual Growth)
The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron (Spiritual Growth)

There are so many books out there that have their foundations in 12-step recovery, but are not officially associated with any 12-step program because the book was written by one person instead of a 12-step collective. The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is one of those books that builds something beautiful on a 12-step recovery foundation. Part of the reason I love this book is because Cameron believes that everybody is an artist of some kind and if you are not making art (music, acting, painting, etc.), then it’s just because you have not yet been given the right opportunity. And you can create that opportunity. Cameron shows the reader how to get rid of baggage and blocks that prevent playfulness and creativity and then how to keep your creativity going every day so you can be the artist you were meant to be. Most mornings, I do an exercise Cameron refers to as “Morning Pages”, which is just taking the time to clear my head through writing so I can let go of all the stuff my left brain is hanging onto that is not serving me and blocking my creativity. If you love making art and you also love personal growth, this book is for you. If you don’t make art yet but you’d like to, this book is also for you.

Quantum Healing by Deepak Chopra, M.D. (Spiritual Growth and Scientific Research)
A Course in Miracles by Foundation for Inner Peace (Spiritual Growth)

I found this book when I was reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, because he mentions it once in his writing. Since then I have noticed that many spiritual writers mention it in their writing; it appears to be a spiritual foundation for many comtemporary writers.  The contents of A Course in Miracles was channeled to Dr. Helen Schucman by an entity that called itself “Jesus”.  If this sounds unbelievable and a little alarming to you, I get it. A Course in Miracles is incredibly long and difficult to read, but it’s worth it. And whether they write about it or not, I suspect that it underlies many of the spiritual philosophies of popular modern spiritual writers and speakers.

Start Where You Are: A Guide to Compassionate Living by Pema Chodron (Spiritual Growth)
The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh (Spiritual Growth)
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle (Spiritual Growth)
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra, M.D. (Spiritual Growth)
Feeling Is the Secret by Neville Goddard (Spiritual Growth)

This is a great little book written in the 1940s about how to manage your feelings and enhance your joy. There are many other books that are more spiritually advanced than this one, but I put it in the list because I was so impressed with Goddard’s advanced thinking. It’s a short, but inspiring, read.

One Truth, One Law: I Am, I Create by Erin Werley (Spiritual Growth)
The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz (Spiritual Growth)
The Zen of Recovery by Mel Ash (Spiritual Growth)

This is a little-known gem of a book by recovered alcoholic and Zen Buddhist teacher Mel Ash. I found this book at my library when I did a search for spiritual books, and it was my reintroduction to mindfulness practice during the pandemic. In The Zen of Recovery, Ash shares his story of growing up in a dysfunctional home and developing alcoholism, which was rapidly destroying his life until he was able to join Alcoholics Anonymous and start his recovery. He used Zen Buddhism as the spiritual foundation of his recovery, joining a local Zen Buddhist center and eventually becoming a teacher. Ash describes his interpretation of the 12 steps, weaving in Zen Buddhist principles, and then shares Zen Buddhist lessons he has learned in his many years of recovery. Ash is a beautiful writer and his humility invited me to share in his story and feel open to whatever knowledge and experience he was sharing. The most powerful idea in the book for me was Ash’s explanation of the brain as just another organ in the body, doing what it was designed to do. The brain makes thoughts, the heart pumps blood, the lungs take in oxygen, etc. Ash points out that we don’t ascribe special meaning to every heart beat or every breath, so why hang on to every thought we have? Ash’s description of the concept helped me start letting go of thoughts that were not supportive or additive to my life; a great way to start mindfulness practice.

The Cartoon Utopia by Ron Rege, Jr. (Spiritual Growth/Cartoons)

I found this book in the spirituality section of one of my favorite used book stores in Annapolis, Maryland, Old Fox Books. Rege created a series of cartoons to illustrate the powerful concepts he was learning in Maja D’Aoust’s Magic School in Los Angeles from 2008-2012. A self-proclaimed “white witch”, D’Aoust taught about everything needed for a joyful, magic-filled life, from the power of acceptance to more elusive concepts like “the etheric vortex.” Are some of the ideas a little “out there”? Yes. Do I love this book anyway? YES. This book is where I discovered the phrase “we are many vessels, one light”, which changed the way I think about God and my place in the world. Rege’s cartoons are adorable, and they are all black-and-white line drawings, inviting you to color them in (if you are squeamish about coloring in books, photocopies are always an option).

Mindful Games: Sharing Mindfulness and Meditation with Children, Teens, and Families by Susan Kaiser Greenland (Spiritual Growth/Parenting)
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (Science Fiction/Fantasy)
Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds by adrienne maree brown (Leadership)

First, how bold must you be to insist that your name be spelled with only lowercase letters? brown’s book is a beautiful and revolutionary treatise on leadership from a place of social justice and mindfulness. Her argument is that instead of organizational planning, we lead from a place of mindfulness and acceptance, so that instead of defending ourselves against change, we embrace it as the growth opportunity that it is. This book also comes with handy lists of questions to ask yourself and your employees to determine if you are practicing emergent strategy and social justice-oriented leadership.

The CoDA Book by CoDA (Spiritual Growth and Recovery)

Written collectively by a committee of members of Codependents Anonymous, this book is the main literature for the CoDA program. Though it doesn’t actually define codependency, it will help you determine if you could benefit from the CoDA program and provides guidance on how to identify and stop your codependent behaviors.

The Language of Letting Go: Daily Meditations on Codependency by Melody Beattie (Self-Help, Spiritual Growth)
Codependent No More by Melody Beattie (Spiritual Growth)

One of the greatest challenges I have, and one that I believe is shared by many other people, is learning how to love others while still getting my needs met and setting healthy boundaries. Melody Beattie wrote one of the very first books on codependency, and this is a good one. If you are not familiar with codependency, there are so many definitions, but I define it as the set of behaviors that emerge when I make my self-worth dependent on feedback from the outside world. When I know I have inherent value, same as everybody else, regardless of what happens in my life, then I am able to set better boundaries. In her book, Beattie presents several case studies of codependency and talks about how to live interdependently, instead of codependently.

The Postman by David Brin (Science Fiction)
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera (Fiction)
From Here to Eternity by James Jones (Fiction)
The Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (Spiritual Growth)
Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl (Autobiography, Spiritual Growth)
The Visual Display of Quantitative Information by Edward R. Tufte (Graphics & Data Analysis)

Edward R. Tufte, called the “Galileo of graphics” by Business Week, has a way of putting together information in graphics displays that is absolutely unmatched, as far as I know. He also is a brilliant researcher, and his book is full of beautiful and brilliant graphics displays, from an illustration of how a starfish turns over to a graphical map display that shows Napoleon’s march in Russia. If you are interested in learning how to best convey different streams of data in an elegant graphic, read this book. You might be wondering why I’m including Tufte’s book in my list of spiritual and mindful books, and it’s because it shows how humans throughout time have been able to use expanded perspective to gather information about context in order to solve really difficult challenges or convey complex information in a beautiful way. Research shows that expanded perspective and increased understanding of context are two outcomes of mindfulness practice. If you are interested, Tufte teaches wonderful workshops (that’s how I found him), and you can learn more about his workshops and work here.

Virginia Slave Narratives: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Project 1936-1938 by the Works Projects Administration (History & Biography)

I found this book for sale in one of the shops in historical Williamsburg, Virginia. It is a compilation of former slave narratives that were collected in the late 1930s by U.S. writers as part of the Federal Writers’ Project, part of the Works Progress Administration that was established in President Roosevelt’s New Deal, a concerned government effort to lift the U.S. out of the great depression by creating government-funded jobs.

I loved this book because the stories are beautiful and minimally edited, with no commentary or interpretation, leaving space for the reader to integrate the information and draw their own conclusions from primary sources. The horror of the individual’s experiences as slaves was balanced by their incredible strength of spirit. Every person becomes humanized, regardless of the role they played in the story.

Learn more about the Federal Writers’ Project and the Slave Narrative series.https://www.loc.gov/collections/slave-narratives-from-the-federal-writers-project-1936-to-1938/about-this-collection/

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell (Psychology)

I have read several of Malcolm Gladwell’s books – in my opinion, they are some of the best pop psychology books written. By “pop psychology”, I mean books written by social science researchers where the writer does a review of studies on a particular phenomena and draws conclusions in a way that is accessible and interesting to people who are interested in the phenomenon but unfamiliar with scientific research and how to access or read it. Of the books by Gladwell I’ve read, Outliers had the biggest impression on me because it helped me unravel my idea that some people are more talented than others or are born to be great. Instead, he shows that every wildly successful person has both put in about 10,000 hours of practice in their talent area (anything from computer programming to playing the violin) and experienced multiple “failures” or “dead ends” before becoming an “overnight success”. Framing talent and success (or what we might consider as “success”) in terms of nurture rather than nature helped me be kinder to myself, and also more forgiving and kinder to others.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (Fiction)

I’m not recommending this book so much as admitting that I read it because it imparted such a powerful lesson for me. It’s absolutely the darkest book you will find on this list. Don’t get me wrong, it’s very well-written and it was on the New York Times Bestseller List, but if you have kids, you might not want to read it. If you have any trauma or sadness in your past, you might not want to read it. You just…might not want to read it. The story follows a mother and her son shortly before he’s born, told from the mother’s perspective. The story ends with the mother dealing with the consequences of her parenting after her son has done something truly awful. Without giving too much away, the lesson I took from this book is that nobody is born evil, but evil behaviors are a natural consequence of the defenses we build against feeling unloved and unwanted. The less love we have in our lives, the more defenses we build, the more likely we are to hurt other people.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby (Memoir)
The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell (Comparative Mythology)
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice by Shunryu Suzuki (Spiritual Growth)
Feeling Good by David M. Burns, MD (Mental Health)

This is the layperson’s guide to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). If you are not familiar, CBT is based on the theory that our negative thought patterns create our uncomfortable feelings and moods. Therefore, if we can recognize and change our negative thoughts, we will feel better. I read this book several years ago when I was suffering from crippling depression and I wouldn’t say that it cured me, but working the exercises in this book, plus working with a cognitive behavioral therapist, got me to the point where I could get out of bed every day, get a job, and get my Master’s in social work. For anybody struggling with depression, I would highly recommend this book; many of my tools and worksheets draw from CBT theory and the exercises in this book.

2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke (Science Fiction)

I am a HUGE science fiction nerd. I love both classic and new science fiction, I think because I am excited, curious, and hopeful about what could be. My favorite science fiction is the kind that paints a picture of what the world and universe might look like if (or when, if you are as confident as I am) humans were (are) able to collectively adhere to principles that bring the greatest good to all. 2001: A Space Odyssey may be Arthur C. Clarke’s best-known work, partially because it was made into a movie by Stanley Kubrick, who, if you are not familiar, is a brilliant director. But it’s also just a really amazing book that posits that the evolution from apes to humans was brought about by advanced alien technology, while simultaneously exploring the dangers of technology and how sentient beings can overcome technological missteps. In general, I love Clarke because all of his science fiction assumes that humans are basically good; we just need some more time to evolve. Even though Clarke wrote this book over 50 years ago, I think it still holds up, which is a remarkable science fiction feat.

The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov (Science Fiction)
Ender’s Game Trilogy by Orson Scott Card (3 books: Ender’s Game; Speaker for the Dead; Xenocide) (Science Fiction)

This series by Orson Scott Card is classic science fiction, and my second favorite (after Lewis’ Space Trilogy; see below) of all time. It’s an incredible story – a boy soldier who conquers an alien race, then befriends them, and saves the world a few times in the process. The underlying principles that come through the story are beautiful and powerful. Through his writing, Card demonstrates how it’s possible, and why it’s necessary, to love your enemy; how the truth lies in the combined perspective of all stakeholders (an HS Systems Health Principle); that it’s always possible to find a solution that gets everybody’s needs met; that we don’t have to sacrifice our wellbeing for excellence.

The Space Trilogy by C.S. Lewis (Science Fiction)
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder (Philosophical Fiction)

This is a sweet, delightful book about Sophie, who, guided by notes from her absent father, enjoys a series of adventures that teach her about all of the major philosophical approaches to life. Sophie’s World is a fun way to learn about major areas of philosophical thought and the ending is fantastic.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (Science Fiction)

I read this the first time when I was in high school and I was fascinated, although I don’t think I fully understood the message. Since then, I’ve read it a few more times and even though this book was written in 1932 – almost a century ago – it still feels relevant and only mildly antiquated. This dystopian novel is set far into the future, when human beings are being genetically engineered in artificial wombs to maintain a highly structured class system based on intelligence and thousands of hours of conditioning via sleep-hypnosis. Instead of God, they worship Ford, as in Henry Ford, inventor of the Model-T. Everybody is conditioned to be completely sexually free and continually consume products carefully curated to uphold the social order. Special relationships, such as marriage, partnerships, parents, etc., are non-existent. The drug “soma”, like alcohol or other substances but without the hangover or withdrawal symptoms, is freely provided to everybody as a kind of antidepressant. In the book, a “savage”, a man raised in one of the few remaining “uncivilized” indigenous people territories, ends up dropped into the middle of the new civilization, which results in violence and tragedy. Having read The Perennial Philosophy by Huxley (see above), I believe that Huxley’s goal in A Brave New World was to show a world where consumerism (with flavors of communism) is the primary value. He also does a comparative analysis, through the story, on the origins of Eastern and Western religions. Even though it was written a long time ago, this book, as I said before, is still relevant and interesting. Huxley does an amazing job of weaving in analyses of religion, spirituality, and materialism into a fascinating story.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (Science Fiction)

This is my favorite stand-alone science fiction book of all time. It is a beautiful and tragic story, about a man with a severe intellectual disability who, through a series of scientific experiments, becomes an intellectual genius. Keyes explores ethical issues in science and scientific experimentation, different kinds of intelligence, challenges in romantic relationships, and the damage that egos can do. I don’t usually re-read books, but I’ve read this book about 10 times and it gets better every time.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (Science Fiction/Fantasy)

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite writers of all time, not only because he tells a beautiful and exciting story, but also because he is able to pull the spirituality out of Christianity’s political and religious trappings to create worlds in which everybody would want to live. You are probably familiar with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe from this series, but that is not the first book in the series or, in my opinion, even the best. Lewis wrote the Narnia series for children, but it’s worthwhile reading for adults. One of my fondest dreams to to read the entire series to my son – I would be even happier than the time we watched The Neverending Story together.

Wrinkle in Time Quintet by Madeleine L’Engle (Science Fiction)

A Wrinkle in Time was the second science fiction book I read, and I have very clear memories of reading the book for the first time in the second half of fourth grade. My dad had died in December of that year, and my world, of course, was wrecked. In A Wrinkle in Time, the protagonist, Meg, goes on an adventure with her brother and a friend to save her dad, who has been trapped on a planet ruled by an evil entity intent to make everybody into automatons. You can probably guess why this book appealed to me at this time in my life. The other books in this quintet are just as good –  wonderful imaginative stories that illustrate what you can do when you find your own power.

Rebecca’s World by Terry Nation (Science Fiction)

This book was my introduction to science fiction, and I recently had the pleasure of reading it to my 9-year old son. Rebecca is transported to another world, where she takes on the task of finding a way to restore the trees, with the help of three friends she makes at the beginning of her journey. I love this book because Rebecca breaks a lot of rules and is rewarded with expanded understanding and an opportunity to discover the truth. It’s a classic “hero’s journey” (see Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey above).

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