Last year was one of professional and personal growth for me, full of insight, learning and revelation. I can retrace my path by the books I read, each of them a lantern that lit my way. Here are seventeen of them.
How to Listen by Katie Columbus.
Samaritans is a British volunteer organization that runs a suicide telephone helpline. In How to Listen, Katie Columbus shares what Samaritan volunteers learn and teach about listening, one of the greatest gifts we can give others when we do it with skill.
A Hidden Wholeness by Parker J Palmer.
"The soul is shy" writes Parker J Palmer. It must feel safe before it is willing to reveal itself to the world. In A Hidden Wholeness, Mr Palmer shares what he has learned about the soul organizing circles of trust—sacred Quaker spaces where people feel safe enough to reveal their souls in front of others, "alone together".
The Hero's Journey by Joseph Campbell.
Joseph Campbell devoted his life to studying myth, a universal human language that animates the world and our lives with meaning and purpose. Reading and listening to Mr Campbell reveals the world as metaphor, with all of us (either consciously or unconsciously) re-enacting ancient mythical forms and journeys.
Man and his Symbols by Carl Jung.
I have tried reading Carl Jung before and found it hard going :) Man and his Symbols was the last book he wrote before his death, and was a deliberate attempt to make his life's work more accessible to a non-technical public. It's a fascinating tour of Jung's theories about the unconscious, individuation, and the role of myth and symbol in human psychodrama.
The Wild God of the World by Robinson Jeffers.
Robinson Jeffers is the greatest American poet I had never heard of. Jeffers lived most of his life in a cottage he built himself out of sea granite in Carmel, California. From this unvarying environment he spun several volumes of awe-struck and apocalyptic poetry, returning again and again to the hawks, the rocks and the seals of the Pacific coast. Start with Wild God of the World. It's astonishing.
The Odyssey by Homer, translated By Emily Wilson.
They made me read The Odyssey at school. Then I read it willingly, 40 years later. What a difference that made. Emily Wilson's translation is very good: ur-myth told in simple, sparse language that skips along in iambic pentameters (ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum ti-tum).
Japanese Death Poems, compiled by Yoel Hoffman.
The Japanese write poetry as an exercise in trying to see the world as it really is by separating reality from our reactions to it. Jisei are poems written when the author is close to death, perhaps as an attempt to capture a particularly lucid moment of seeing. Yoel Hoffman adds an excellent introduction to Japanese poetic forms, whose highly formal constraints seem to liberate creativity.
The Divine Within by Aldous Huxley.
Written between 1941-1964, this collection of 26 essays explores Aldous Huxley's thoughts on spirituality, God, religion and the human condition. Huxley's synthesis of eastern and western religious thought and impulses is especially mind and consciousness expanding.
Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich.
Huxley left me wondering whether, ultimately, a singular spiritual experience underlies all religions, and whether religious mystics—those who seek to experience God directly through prayer or meditation—might shed light on the matter. Written towards the end of the 14th century by an English anchoress, Revelations of Divine Love describes an ecstatic vision of God as pure, uplifting love.
Why God Won't Go Away by Andrew Newberg and Eugene D'Aquili.
The authors describe a series of experiments monitoring the brain activity of people having peak spiritual experiences. They find an explanation for mystical experience in brain function. Are mystics accessing a deeper level of reality, or triggering a quirk of the brain? It seems hard to say: we create everything we experience from electrical signals of one kind or another.
Love in Action by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Holiness is wholeness. We become more whole as we transform our suffering. It is no surprise to me that the most holy amongst us have suffered much. Thich Nhat Hanh founded the Order of Interbeing in the midst of the Vietnamese war. Love in Action is an extraordinary collection of essays that shed light on how the great Zen master transformed his suffering into love, compassion and activism—and how we can too.
Crossing the Unknown Sea by David Whyte.
Many of my coaching clients come to me with questions about their careers. In Crossing the Unknown Sea, David Whyte puts the focus on work as a lifelong exploration of who we are, what we have to give and how we belong to the world.
The Book of Delights by Ross Gay.
The poet Ross Gay set himself the task of writing about what delights him, every day, for a year. The Book of Delights collects his labors, celebrating old music, pecans, family memories, and airplane rituals.
Consolations by David Whyte.
Consolations is a lovely little book of essays about everyday words and the "solace, nourishment and underlying meaning" that David Whyte finds in them. My favorite: Whyte's essay on beginning, which "is difficult, and our procrastination is a fine ever-present measure of our reluctance in taking that first close-in, courageous step to reclaiming our happiness."
Of Boys and Men by Richard Reeves.
Boys struggle more than girls at school and on campus. Men are losing ground in the labor market. Fathers are losing touch with their children, and men account for nearly three quarters of all "deaths of despair", either from suicide or from an overdose. Policy wonk Richard Reeves argues that, while women have redefined their place in the world, men are stuck playing traditional roles of declining relevance.
Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine.
A former CEO of the Co-Active Training Institute, which has trained and certified tens of thousands of coaches, Shirzad Chamine has created a simple and powerful brain-training program for consciously shifting ourselves out of negative psychological habits and into positive ones. The program is best taken with a group of peers, but the book is a good introduction.
Wintering by Katherine May.
There are times in all of our lives when we must retreat from the world to find the solitude and patience we need to heal ourselves. Katherine May calls it wintering, and summons the cold and dark to reveal its under-appreciated qualities and the vital role it plays in our lives.