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 really speak to me 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 🙂
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.
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.”
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
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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)
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (Science Fiction)
The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You by Elaine N. Aron (Personal Growth)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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).