October 17, 2013

8 Mesmerizing, Must-Read Spiritual Memoirs.

“First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.”

~ Mahatma Gandhi

Having just written my very own spiritual memoir, I have great appreciation for these 8 rather mesmerizing autobiographies penned by some of the most inspiring spiritual teachers of our time—and some authors who aren’t technically of the “spiritual” genre, but whose works fit into the category of feeding the readers’ souls.

1. Freedom in Exile by the Dalai Lama

His Holiness has actually written two autobiographies. I haven’t yet read the first, My Land and My People. His more recent memoir tells the touching story of his life.

The fact that the Dalai Lama was forced by Chinese communists to flee from his home country, Tibet, and hasn’t been able to return since 1959 makes his kind, compassionate presence on the world’s stage all the more amazing and inspiring.

2. Night by Elie Wiesel

A common title from high school required reading lists, this uncommonly thin memoir is absolutely gut wrenching–and absolutely required reading for everyone.

The story of Wiesel’s time trapped in Auschwitz during The Holocaust is a heartbreaking and horrific. He offers us a look at humanity’s ugliest and most resplendent sides. It took me weeks to get through the short book, because it’s so intense that I could only read a brief passage at a time.

3. Cave in the Snow: A Western Woman’s Quest for Enlightenment by Vickie Mackenzie

Okay, this isn’t technically a memoir, but it is the incredible true story of Tenzin Palmo, a British woman turned Tibetan Buddhist nun who spent 12 years alone in a cave 13,000 feet up in the Himalayas.

On her mountain retreat, she faced bitter cold temperatures, wild animals, floods, snow and rockfalls, grew her own food and slept in a traditional wooden meditation box. A remarkable story about a remarkable woman’s spiritual path.

4. Committed: A Love Story by Elizabeth Gilbert

The world-famously divorced author of Eat, Pray, Love wrote this book after her mega-bestseller-turned-movie-starring-Julia-Roberts. (I never could bring myself to watch it.)

In Committed, her musings on compatibility and fidelity chronicles Liz’s journey into her second marriage. I appreciate her frank, conversational tone and her humble attitude about having become a world-famous “chick-lit” author.

5. Perfection: A Memoir of Betrayal and Renewal by Julie Metz

Julie Metz’s memoir opens with the sudden death of her husband. Seven months later she discovers that her late husband had hidden another life from her and had cheated on her throughout their 12 years of marriage. Perfection is the story of Julie’s journey as she comes to terms with painful truths in order to transform her life.

6. The Great Failure by Natalie Goldberg

I just can’t get enough of Natalie Goldberg. “Of course, we are drawn to teachers that unconsciously mirror our own psychology,” she writes.

In this, her second memoir, she explores the link between her Zen master, Katagiri Roshi, and her father who sexually violated her. (Also recommended: Long, Quiet Highway, which is Natalie’s first memoir.)

7. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers

In this moving memoir, twentysomething Dave loses both of his parents to cancer and suddenly finds himself in charge of raising his eight-year-old brother. Eggers manages to be simultaneously hilarious, inventive and heartfelt in this, his literary debut.

He has gone on to write many high-quality books including my personal favorite, What is the What. I am currently reading his latest novel, The Circle. (Stay tuned for a review coming soon.)

8. The Story of My Experiments with Truth by Mohandas Gandhi

Dude, it’s Gandhi. Listen to the Mahatma. We should all follow his example of humility, action and inspiration.

What others should be included on this list?

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 Ed: Bryonie Wise

Reply to Jamie Throgmorton cancel

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Jamie Throgmorton Dec 19, 2013 6:01pm

Also what about “The Poisonwood Bible,” a historical memoir-like novel with 5 different narrative voices? Each woman of the Price family was certainly transformed by childhood years lived in (formerly Belgian) Congo, under the iron fist of their misguided missionary father during the end of colonialization and return to local political “freedom.” It just dawned on me their last name is key: what Price do we each pay for life? An all-time best book on my short list. Thanks.

Jamie Throgmorton Dec 19, 2013 5:45pm

I would add “Princess in the Land of Snows,” by the deeply inspiring Tibetan Buddhist woman, Lama Jamyang Sakya. I was transported into her childhood world–so recent yet so different from mine–as she recounted her unusual life from the endless Tibetan plains, to a royal marriage, to Chinese occupation and escape across the Himalayas. Hers was among the very first families to emigrate to the US after the Tibetan exodus of 1959, and this memoir stops then. I’ve heard (yes, it’s purely a rumor) that Lama Sakya may be writing about the second chapter of her life here in the US (centered around the now well-established Sakya Monastery in Seattle). I for one hope that rumor is true!

EverPresent Nov 22, 2013 1:41am

Irina Tweedie's "Daughter of Fire". Spiritual Diary of English woman's initiation into Sufi lineage and
her 5 years in India with her master. A masterpiece.

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Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Michelle Margaret is a heart-centered writer, teacher and creator of Yoga Freedom.

She has been a columnist on Elephant Journal since 2010 and has self-published inspiring books. She incorporates dharma, hatha, yin, mindfulness, chakras, chanting and pranayama into her teachings and practice. A former advertising copywriter and elementary school teacher, she is now a freelance writer and translator. Michelle learned yoga from a book at age 12 and started teaching at 22. She met the Buddha in California at 23 and has been a student of the dharma ever since. Michelle is now approaching her forties with grace and gratitude.

Join Michelle for a writing and yoga retreat this summer at magical Lake Atitlan in the western highlands of Guatemala!