This collection of non-fiction texts changed the way I see the world. Ranging from autobiography, to scientific research, to philosophy, each of these texts informs my life and my work.
Walking in the Wind, John Lewis
This autobiographical account of activist John Lewis’ experience in the Civil Rights Movement is awe-inspiring and aspirational for those wishing to change the world with love. I was assigned this book in an under-graduate history class, and it is by far my favorite autobiography. John Lewis is a humble follower of the beliefs in non-violence and tells his story with grace and passion.
“Suffering, though, can be nothing but a sad and sorry thing without the presence on the part of the sufferer of a graceful heart… A heart that holds no malice toward the inflictors of his or her suffering. This is a broader, deeper, more encompassing love. It is a love that recognizes the divine spark in all of us, even in those who would raise their hand against us… This sense of love realizes the emotions of the moment and constantly shifting circumstances can cloud the divine spark. Pain, fear and ugliness can cover over it, turning a person toward anger and hate. It is the ability to see through those layers of ugliness, to see farther into a person than perhaps that person can see into himself, that is essentially the practice of non-violence.”
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values, Robert M. Pirsig
A non-fiction, philosophical musing that tells the story of one man’s motorcycle ride across America. I was assigned this book in a undergraduate course in spirituality. I didn’t love it then, but I came back to it years later and found it to be a pleasure.
“You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.”
“We take a handful of sand from the endless landscape of awareness around us and call that handful of sand the world.”
The Culture of Counter-Culture, Alan Watts
A series of lecture excerpts from philosopher Alan Watts, this text is filled with enlightening metaphors and articulate expressions of the nature of life. I was given this book by minister David Hett, and I read it while at a cabin in the woods with my family. I remember having to set the book down, eyes full of tears, as I sat surrounded by loved ones, looking out at the natural world, a beautiful moment.
“And just as a whirlpool in a river is a whirling of water, there is no whirlpool. There is only the thing that whirlpools. And in the same way, each of us is a very delightfully complex undulation of the energy of the whole universe.”
“I will never forget that once, when I was out in the countryside, a piece of thistledown flew out of the blue. It came right down to me, and I put out my finger, and I caught it by one of its tendrils. Then it behaved like a daddy long legs; you know when you catch one by a leg, it naturally struggles to get away… And I thought, ‘it is just the wind doing that….’ But then I thought again, ‘It is the wind, yes, but it is also this thistledown that has the intelligence to grow so as to use the wind to help it get away.'”
Let Your Life Speak, Parker Palmer
Teacher, speaker and writer Parker Palmer provides a guide for finding our truest nature and purpose in life through the lens of his own experiences and insights. Dr. Lisa Withrow suggested I read Parker Palmer while interviewing to enter seminary at Methodist Theological School of Ohio. It gave me great comfort and encouragement as I took the crazy leap to enter a new phase of my life at age 33.
“Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you. Before you tell your life what truths and values you have decided to live up to, let your life tell you what truths you embody, what you represent.”
“Our metaphors often become reality, transmuting themselves from language to the living of our lives.”
A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the World, Daniel Pink
In this book, Daniel Pink uses research to define and outline six essential human qualities needed for the future: design, story, symphony, empathy, play and meaning. This text was on my summer reading list when I taught high school English, and students had to give presentations using the activities outlined in the book. It is interesting and insightful stuff to bring into the field of education.
“Like drawing, Symphony is largely about relationships. People who hope to thrive in the Conceptual Age must understand the interconnections between diverse, and seemingly disparate, disciplines. They must know how to link apparently unconnected elements to create something new. And they must become adapt at analogy- at seeing one thing in terms of another.”
Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, Linda Graham
Marriage and family therapist and mindfulness teacher Linda Graham provides an absolute wealth of strategies that harness the power of neuroscience insights and applies them to daily life. The effect is life-giving. It is not an overstatement to say that this book has shaped my professional work more than any other. It is so applicable to helping people grow and embrace change in life.
“It’s important, as we learn how to recover resilience, not to dwell on shame or blame about how and why our resilience went awry. Instead, as the new positive psychology movement is teaching us, we can use the power of new conditioning to install and sustain positive patterns of resilience and coping. We can use the practice of mindfulness- non-judgemental awareness and acceptance- to reverse depression, the practice of gratitude to heal from grief, and the practice of shifting perspectives to create options.”
Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation: a 28-Day Challenge, Sharon Salzburg
Meditation teacher and author Sharon Salzburg provides this readable guide and audio CD of meditations ranging from five to fifteen minutes. This is the book I recommend to beginning meditators, and it is one of the tools that helped me begin down the path of my own practice.
“Mindfulness helps us get better at seeing the difference between what’s happening and the stories we tell ourselves about what’s happening, stories that get in the way of direct experience. Often such stories treat a fleeting state of mind as if it were our entire and permanent self.”
“If you’re reading these words, perhaps it’s because something has kicked open the door for you, and you’re ready to embrace change. It isn’t enough to appreciate change from afar, or only in the abstract, or as something that can happen to other people but not to you. We need to create change for ourselves, in a workable way, as part of our everyday lives.”
On Becoming an Artist, Ellen Langer
This compilation of much of Langer’s own research and personal experience delving into artistic expression provides a basis for those wishing to blend Langer’s own specific brand of mindfulness with the creative process fruitfully. This book very much informed my work on mindful creativity.
“I now know that I don’t know what any particular tree will look like without first seeing it, and even then it is likely to be more than I see.”
“People… prefer art that is mindfully created. It is less perfect and more pleasing… We seek perfection and get frozen by the thought of our imperfection. This is ironic in that the outcomes we seek are more likely to come from our imperfect selves.”