8 Excellent, Must-Read, Non New-Agey Spiritual Books.

Via Michelle Margaret Fajkus
on Sep 8, 2013
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photo: tumblr
photo: tumblr

We live in a paradoxical, postmodern culture of overstimulation and shallowness —

obesity next to hunger; superficial celebrity gossip next to ignored people living in or near poverty; cheap fast food next to prohibitively expensive, genetically modified, supposedly organic gourmet cuisine; 24/7 fake news media next to endless hours of “reality” TV; bloggers blogging blasphemies next to twits tweeting trivialities.

It all comes down to seeking a sense of control and instant gratification.

Reading is great because it slows us down. Turn off the TV and pick up a good book.

Here are a few suggestions, which in my opinion fall in the category of “non new-agey.” These authors are spiritual but not dogmatic. They may or may not belong to a certain religion, but their teachings are universally soulful and open to all.

p.s. What modern spiritual books do you adore? Share your additions to the list in the comments section below! 

1. Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh

Or, anything by Thich Nhat Hanh, really. He is a Vietnamese Zen monk, teacher, activist—and a prolific writer. I especially love his classic Peace is Every Step, which I actually first read in Spanish, but all of Thay’s many writings are extremely clear, compassionate and compelling. When I read Living Buddha, Living Christ after a traumatic relationship with a Christian boyfriend, it saved my spiritual life.

2. The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan Watts

The age of anxiety Watts refers to was in the 1950s, but obviously his words still apply today. I will admit I’m only halfway through this book, but I already love Alan Watts’ conversational tone and intriguing ideas. Here are my two favorite sentences so far: “For the poets have seen the truth that life, change, movement, and insecurity are so many names for the same thing” and “It is also convenient to agree to use the same words for the same things, and to keep these words unchanged, even though the things we are indicating are in constant motion.”

3. Fierce Medicine: Breakthrough Practices to Heal the Body and Ignite the Spirit by Ana Forrest

Ana Forrest is an American yoga teacher whose life story will blow you away. She transcended an abusive family, drug addictions and bodily injuries to become the founder of her own lineage of yoga, Forrest Yoga. Ana weaves Native American shamanic wisdom into her unique, fierce yoga style.

4. Think on These Things by J. Krishnamurti

Jiddhu Krishnamurti is my favorite Indian non-guru guru. His philosophies awaken my spirit. He is all about experiencing life and truth for oneself and exploring both big questions and finite detail. This particular book is a collection of his talks with schoolchildren and the way he discusses knowledge, education, reality, duty, love, freedom, work and other practical topics with the adolescents is delightful.

5. An Open Heart: Practicing Compassion in Everyday Life by the Dalai Lama

The 14th Dalai Lama has a fascinating life story, which he shares in his memoir, Freedom in Exile. An autobiography well worth reading. Like Thich Nhat Hanh, he has written and co-written a vast array of books on Buddhist philosophies and practices. My personal favorite is An Open Heart, which I checked out from the school library when I worked in Guatemala City a few years ago. I especially appreciated his clear explanation of the sometimes esoteric topic of emptiness.

6. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chodron

Even some of the chapter titles in this book are great teachings: “This Very Moment is the Perfect Teacher,” “Relax As It Is,” “The Path Is The Goal.” Of course, Pema’s compassionate discourse in each chapter only adds to the incredible value of this book’s advice for dealing with the difficult situations that we all face from time to time.

7. Reinventing Truth: A New Map of the Spiritual Path and Reality As It Is  by Edward Mannix

This groundbreaking spiritual manifesto is all about the common and pervasive pitfalls that many of us encounter on the spiritual path, from writing-off negative experiences with the concept of “the silver lining” to desiring to eradicate one’s own big, bad ego. Edward’s second book, Impossible Compassion, outlines a simple, unique method of personal and planetary healing called Directed Compassion.

8. Long, Quiet Highway: Waking Up in America by Natalie Goldberg

Most famous for her landmark book, Writing Down the Bones, Natalie Goldberg is a writer, painter and poet. Her 1993 memoir delves into her childhood on Long Island, time spent in Taos, stint studying Tibetan Buddhism in Boulder, and her touching, complicated relationship with her Zen teacher Katagiri Roshi at the Zen Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota of all places.

(Bonus: 279 Days to Overnight Successa short, sweet manifesto on becoming a full-time blogger by Chris Guillebeau)


Quote of the Day: The Girl You Should Be Dating.


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Ed: Sara Crolick


About Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a Gemini yogini, writer, teacher and retreat leader who founded Yoga Freedom in 2002 in Austin, Texas. Her home since 2012 is Lake Atitlán, Guatemala where she lives in a tiny eco cabin with her Colombiano partner and their adorable daughter, dog and two gatos. Michelle has been writing this column for elephant journal since 2010 and has written some inspiring books, with more on the way. She leads yoga and mindfulness retreats and serves as the retreat managers for the stunningly beautiful Villa Sumaya on majestic Lago Atitlan. Her lineage is the very esoteric Yoga Schmoga, which incorporates hatha yoga asana, dharma (Buddhist) teachings, pranayama (breath work), yin yoga, mindfulness practices and meditation. Join Michelle on retreat in Guatemala!


41 Responses to “8 Excellent, Must-Read, Non New-Agey Spiritual Books.”

  1. Rolo says:

    Also: "Feeding your Demons: Ancient Wisdom for Resolving Inner Conflice" by Tsultrim Allione. <3<3

  2. Isa says:

    And “Will I be the Hero of my Own Life?” or “Choose to be Happy” by Swami Chetanananda

  3. melodie says:

    I've just added most of these onto my reading list. I love finding new great books. THANK YOU

  4. @anniebodnar says:

    so what does it mean to be new agey? i don't see a reference for how that phrase is being used in the article. it feels derogatory tho, without really saying what it is.

  5. Sanjeev says:

    "Ask and it is given" -Abraham Hicks

  6. JMK says:

    Omg you're missing "Outrageous Openness" by Tosha Silver!

  7. Some great books there. I love spiritual biographies. My three favorites: Anandamurti – The Jamalpur Years – The Biography of Milarepa, and God's Pauper by Nikos Kazanzakis – his wonderful biography of St Francis of Assisi.

  8. Elena says:

    There are some great teachers on this list. Especially Pema Chodron – her teachings are excellent in showing how Dharma is relevant and easy to apply in our everyday lives without us having to be Buddhist. A personal favourite of mine is "Why I Make Myself Unhappy" by Tsem Tulku Rinpoche, I'm always recommending it to others 🙂

  9. yoga freedom says:

    Great, thanks for your suggestions!

  10. yoga freedom says:

    You are most welcome. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  11. yoga freedom says:

    Great… thanks for your recommendation.

  12. yoga freedom says:

    Thank you for the suggestion!

  13. yoga freedom says:

    Fantastic… thanks for the suggestions!

  14. yoga freedom says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, Elena. I know, I adore Pema. Thank you for the book recommendation. I'll have to check that one out!

  15. yoga freedom says:

    I didn't intend to be derogatory. See wikipedia's entry for "New age": http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_age

  16. Monkey says:

    "A Brief History of Everything" – Ken Wilber (or anything else by him)
    "Spiral Dynamics" – Don Beck & Christopher Cowan

  17. yoga freedom says:

    Great, thanks for your suggestion!

  18. Caitlin says:

    @anniebodnar, I had the same sentiment. I notice it's a bit of a catchphrase for this site though, and didn't take it personal from the author. It did get me wondering about it though. My only thought is that to be new age has come to contain the same icky connotations as saying, for example, that one is a hipster (whatever that means). It's become just another one of those things to rag on as some sort of status indication, like "look at me, I'm far too sophisticated to be new age". I'd say, if anything, it totally loses any of its former meaning when manifested in this way, and becomes nothing more than a prank. Personally, I still identify with the term, and associate much of the material within this article and website at large with them term. Would you like to join me in taking back new age?

  19. E Jamieson says:

    ‘Momma Zen, Walking the Crooked Path of motherhood’

    Great list!

  20. I just read David Deida’s book “The Way of the Superior Man” and I am blown away. He maps out Sacred Relationship – intimacy as a spiritual practice – like no one I’ve ever read. Life-changing.

  21. Jessica says:

    In Search of the Miraculous: Healing into Consciousness by Eliza Mada Dalian… this book is a treasure that so clearly lays out the real meaning of life and our purpose and how to find it by healing into consciousness.

  22. Michael Kranzler says:

    Most add favorites, The Passionate Mind & Passionate Mind Revisited (originally inspired by the J. Krishnamurti approach), as well as the critically liberating Guru Papers, Masks of Authoritian power, by the insightful inspirational Yogis, Joel Kramer & Diana Alstad

  23. Excellent list! A practical spirituality guide with many of these experts' books included in the appendix is "Inquire Within – A Guide to Living in Spirit" by James K. Papp – InquireWithin.com

  24. Kurt Risch says:

    "The Tao of Pooh" Benjamin Hoff
    "Illusions" Richard Bach

  25. Jelissa says:

    “The Electric Jesus: the healing journey of a contemporary gnostic” by Jonathan Talat Phillips is rocking my spiritual world right now. Heavy with references & information, intertwined w/ the author’s personal experience makes for a completely relatable, mind bending, heart soothing read. Also, thank you for this list, can’t wait to look into these! 🙂

  26. Bapa-Chris says:

    “Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior” by Chogyam Trungpa is at the top of my list. Rereading it now for the fifth (sixth?) time!

  27. Teresa says:

    The Tao of Pooh.

    Amazing book. Read it 10 times and still going.

  28. Deidra says:

    Eyes Wide Open: Cultivating Discernment on the Spiritual Path by Mariana Caplan

    Not finished with it yet but loving it!o

  29. Sari says:

    Warrior Pose: How Yoga (Literally) Saved My Life by Bhava Ram (Brad Willis). And I definitely am glad to see you have the Ana Forrest book on your list. That is a great choice. Alan Watts too.

  30. Jess says:

    “Can Spiritual Women Say F#ck?: A Jersey Girl’s Guide to Inner Peace” deserves a read, too!

  31. My Sociopath says:

    I copied your list and all the reader's recommendations. Thank you. I think it is sad but most people can't even read now days. I mean CAN"T, literally, because an attention span and focus is required. People would rather sit for hours scrolling through nonsense "feeds" on their Facebook viewing weirdos that they call "friends" constantly posting staged and "glorious" images of themselves and every mere stranger that they come in contact with during the day. Our world is crazy.

  32. Jennifer Ironstone says:

    Loving What Is by Byron Katie

  33. Bruce says:

    Really surprised when I see David Hawkins omitted from any list purporting the best of the best spiritual writings.

  34. Bhagavati says:

    Spiritual Liberation by Michael Beckwith.
    Manual of the Warrior of the Light by Paulo Coelho.

  35. barefootgypsyqueen says:

    Definitely adding these to my list. Also, a Must Read “The Presence Process” by, Micheal Brown!

  36. Carol says:

    Rachel Naomi Remen – My Grandfather’s Blessings. Have read and re-read many times.

  37. Angie says:

    Excellent list! Thank you! I needed that!

  38. This book reading is very interesting this book is very unique best spiritual books
    I am sharing for best spiritual books
    Thank you for this

  39. diegosgarden says:

    I was going to say "The Tao of Pooh." It is my happy Book.

  40. diegosgarden says:

    It is my happy book.

  41. Kat says:

    We might be better off creating a new name that would not produce as much prejudice.