Five Books to Change the Way You Think.
I'm not particularly interested in "self-help". A lot of the books in the self-help section of the bookshop seem a little too prescriptive for my liking and some of them I really don't like at all. I won't say which, but if a book suggests that happiness is to be found in getting what you want, especially in material terms, or that, if you're not happy, there's something wrong with you, I would leave it alone. There are far more useful ways to spend your time than reading stuff like that. However, there are books out there that are written by people with a genuine understanding of life's challenges. They don't peddle some miracle solution to all your troubles and they write out of a sense of enquiry and curiosity. Most of all they seem to be infused with a sense of compassion; this person actually cares about us and has something to say that might make life a little easier. Here are five books I particularly like. It's not a "best of" list and it's not a list of books about mindfulness (I might do that later) but rather it's a rather random selection from my own reading over the last couple of years of things that have found personally helpful and I hope you might take a look at one or two of them yourself.
1. How to Wake Up by Toni Bernhard
One day, Toni Bernhard, a successful law professor at a prestigious university, was struck down by a debilitating illness that left her disabled and dependent. Overnight she lost all the things she believed made life worth living. But somehow she has managed to find the resilience and courage to carry on. This is her second book, the first entitled "How to be Sick" describes, in detail, her personal journey and the lessons she learned on the way. She uses Buddhist teaching as her guide but this shouldn't put you off if you are wary of the idea of religion. This is not a religious book but it does use the insights ofBuddhism to make sense of her experience and therefore the experience of all of us. After all we all experience suffering and illness will come to us all. This is a very compassionate and wise book, jargon free and down to earth, it speaks to all of us.
2. True Refuge by Tara Brach
Tara Brach is an American meditation teacher and psychotherapist whose first book "Radical Acceptance", made a huge impact when it was published. In this, her second book, she gently invites us to look at the ways in which we poison our lives with anger, blaming, fear, self-loathing and so on. She then shows us the antidote, guiding us through three gateways of love, truth and awareness. Again, this is inspired by Tara's Buddhist background, but this shouldn't deter you. The advice she gives is very practical and the text is interspersed with examples of meditations and practices that will help you find your own "true refuge" of peace and innate goodness.
3. The Antidote by Oliver Burkeman
I love the tagline to this book, "Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking". Oliver Burkeman writes a column for the Guardian which explores various aspects of leading a good life but with a healthy dollop of scepticism. In this book he describes his experience on a 10 day intensive meditation retreat, meeting secular guru Eckhart Tolle, encounters with a Mexican death cult and university classics professors. He discovers the wisdom contained in the ancient Greek philosophy of stoicism and explores what modern cognitive psychology can tell us about how we can find happiness in a chaotic modern world. Accessible and, at times, humorous, this is a clever and stimulating book, full of ideas.
4. How to Get From Where You Are to Where You Want to Be by Cheri Huber
Cheri Huber is a Zen teacher and psychotherapist as well as an incredibly prolific writer. Stylistically, I have a few issues with her writing but the content is fascinating. She asks us to enquire into our lived experience using the tools she gives us; tools borrowed from modern psychotherapy as well as Zen. She asks us to identify the crowd of sub-personalities that inhabits our minds; she invites us to listen to the unkind things we say to ourselves; she points out how much of life's energies are wasted seeking to control our world and she shows us how our conditioning blocks our capacity for compassion and happiness. This sounds much more difficult than it really is but reading this book still requires quite a bit of effort and it needs to be done slowly and preferably with a notebook or highlighter at your side. It took me a month to work through it and it was, to say the least, an enlightening experience.
5. Why Can't I Meditate? by Nigel Wellings
Thank you Nigel Wellings for writing this book! Thousands of people have now completed MBSR or MBCT courses and it has always been a source of considerable discouragement that so many of those people give up meditation within a few weeks of completion. Nigel explores why this is the case and is extremely honest about the challenges we all face in maintaining a daily practice. But he also offers solutions - clear, practical solutions that really seem to help. So if your practice is in the doldrums or is otherwise stuck and going nowhere, this is definitely the book for you.
So there you have it. I could easily have added another twenty to the list but these are the ones that have made the biggest impact on my life over the last couple of years. You may have suggestions of your own, in which case let's hear from you. Keep well.