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.”
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 Success, a short, sweet manifesto on becoming a full-time blogger by Chris Guillebeau)
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Ed: Sara Crolick