Updated: Jan 22, 2022
I am regularly asked for book recommendations on meditation and well-being. I present a shortlist here. A few caveats are in order:
1. On average, I read 1-2 books per week. I completed 213 books in 2021 and 190 in 2020. I estimate I've read over 1,000 books over my lifetime. Considering there are over 130,000,000 books ever written, 1,000 is quite inconsequential.
2. I cannot list the hundreds of books I've read and am sure to omit excellent titles.
3. What resonates with me may not resonate with you. On this journey, teachers and lessons often come when we are ready to receive them. A lesson may be found in a book, in an experience, in suffering, in a dialogue, in Nature, in illness, in silence. Trust your own Inner Knowing to direct you.
4. Words are merely symbols. No prose, poem, or formula can quench the soul's thirst. Words, however sublime, are not the real thing. Self-actualization is not an acquisition. It is not something to be lost, gained, or remembered. The real is pulsing in you NOW. Bury yourself in that book!
5. Mystics warn of excessive knowledge. Ignorance and knowledge are in the mind, not in truth. Do not assume the Mystery dancing within you can be approached through the intellect. For being a light onto yourself, knowledge will not help you.
That said, I have found value in books. While a book cannot quench the soul's thirst, it can be a map to a river of living water. While the Mystery cannot be approached through the intellect, the intellect can be made to understand the urgency of our work. For being a light onto yourself, knowledge will not help you (but I found this in a book, I am That by Nisargadatta Maharaj). Although I alone must walk it, I found my path to peace in books. The complete works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Swami Vivekananda, David Thoreau, Krishnamurti, and the poets Walt Whitman, Rumi, Kabir, Hafiz, St. John of the Cross, and Lao Tzu lifted the veil and contributed to my first mystical experience at 17.
After this awakening, I devoured many books on mysticism and comparative religions. Of the hundreds I read, the following were the most influential: The Blue Cliff Records- a collection of Chan Buddhist koans, the Dhammapada, the Upanishads, and the poems of Thich Nhat Hanh.
The Power of Positive Thinking was transformative and is one of the most influential books I've read. The language was dated, but the concepts, when applied, were life-changing. Application is the main thing. No book has value if the lessons are not examined, tested, applied, or embodied. From Dr. Peale, I learned techniques to calm and condition the mind. The inspiration to travel the world by foot, bicycle, and kayak traces back to his writing... as does my decision to teach.
The Bible is foundational and one of the few books I return to regularly. Other books of spiritual import include the Upanishads, the Sutras, A Course in Miracles, Seth Speaks, and Emmanuel's Book. These works were purportedly channeled. Whether the authors were guided by angelic beings or dissociating, the content is extraordinary and challenges what I thought I knew.
Same Soul, Many Bodies, by Brian Weiss, MD challenges what we think we know about life, death, and the afterlife.
From the ethereal and mystical to the practical, remedies for much of human suffering can be found in books. On health, exercise and nutrition, I'd recommend: Spark (John Ratey, MD), the TB12 Method by Tom Brady, Diet for a New America (John Robbins), The Dorito Effect (Mark Schatzker), The Wim Hof Method, Omnivore's Dilemma (Michael Pollan), Whole: Rethinking the Science of Nutrition (Howard Jacobson & T. Colin Campbell), Brain Maker (David Perlmutter, MD & Kristin Loberg), Adrenal Thyroid Revolution (Aviva Romm, MD), and Inflammation Spectrum (Will Cole, MD), Hooked (Nir Eyal). If your condition cannot be corrected with diet or exercise, I'd recommend You Are Not Your Pain (Danny Penman & Vidyamala Burch) for those suffering chronic illness- which, itself, can be a path to wisdom.
Can't Hurt Me, by David Goggins, resonated with me and inspired me to work harder and push past pain and discomfort.
Knowledge alone does not suffice. One needn't read Spark to appreciate the value of exercise. The challenge is developing and maintaining the habit. The following books may help: The Power of Habit, The Craving Mind, Healthy Habits Suck, Atomic Habits, Eat that Frog, Stretch, Upstream, and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (an exceedingly practical manual).
A healthy body lends to a healthy mind. I found these books edifying: The Body Keep Score; When the Body Says No; Many Minds, One Self; Internal Family Systems Model; Destructive Emotions, How Emotions are Made, Grit and Mindset.
Only Love Today, by Rachel Macy Stafford, is a transformative book filled with practical reframing strategies.
The primers on meditation I found most instructive were: Pointing Out the Great Way: The Stages of Meditation in the Mahamudra Tradition, The Mind Illuminated, and Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond.
On this path, challenges are inevitable. The Untethered Soul, The Surrender Experiment, Man's Search for Meaning, When Things Fall Apart, Good Grief, Emotional First Aid, How Emotions are Made, 7 1/2 Lessons About the Brain, Unstressed, and The Power of Now are some books to help us face our problems from a more grounded, centered NOW place.
However spiritually we aspire to live, there are the practical aspects of living we must attend to from organizing our spaces (Read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up) to managing our finances (Read Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money, Financial Peace, and the Intelligent Investor). Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover includes the 7 baby steps which helped me get out of debt, build up reserves, and invest more wisely.
However evolved a person may be, learning to communicate authentically, compassionately, and truthfully is a skill as important as any other. Non-violent Communication is my favorite communication book. Vying for first place is Never Split the Difference, by Christopher Voss. He was the FBI's top negotiator. The skills he shares literally saved lives. Verbal Judo is another top read. The author, George Thompson was a police officer. The strategies he shares work in hostile environments. Like NVC and Never Split the Difference, it's a practical communication manual that has been field-tested. Anybody can talk, but "not anybody can talk a knife out of someone's hand." The Art of Communicating, Getting to Yes, Difficult Conversations, and Complaint Free Challenge also informed my communication style.
Day-to-day living can be enhanced by practicing some of the techniques suggested in The Book of Joy, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, and Altruism.
I found many books on race and equity indirectly spiritual and enlightening. The insights we glean from these books can inform the day-to-day decisions we make that ripple out to affect others. Those who wish to wake up must confront the ugliness, darkness, and suffering of a past that informs and sustains present-day day institutions, systems, and ideologies. Refusing to examine our biases, reinforces them. We are not "more spiritual" when we pretend we are color-blind. Many of these books listed will be difficult to read. Out of respect for those who suffered, however, the least we can do is suffer mild discomfort from the comfort of our reading chairs as we face the truth. Some may not agree with the authors' interpretations of facts, but, we can start by agreeing on the facts: Nice Racism, 1619 Project, Caste, Everything You Wanted to Know About Indians But Were Afraid to Ask, 1491, How to Argue With a Racist, You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey, Barracoon, 30 Days a Black Man, Black Like Me, Stamped from the Beginning, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, The Fire Next Time, White Fragility, Black Elk Speaks, An Indigenous Peoples History of the United States, Blood and Thunder, Empire of the Summer Moon.
You are Not So Smart is an excellent book to read for those wishing to cultivate more humility.
We find within books experiences which we would not be able to go through in a thousand years. There is value in reading, in a mere 5 days, we can read a memoir or biography of one who lived several decades. We can gain wisps of insight and wisdom without experiencing the suffering, the trials, or the years of floundering. Better to learn from the experiences of others. We can also find great inspiration from the lives of people we most admire. Peace Pilgrim: Her Life and Work in Her Own Words is my favorite memoir. So inspired by her example I wrote about my attempt to follow her example: https://www.mrfelix.org/post/peace-pilgrim