This is a stressful time for everyone. We could all use a little help. I’m not generally a reader of self-help and spiritual books. Unfortunately, the genre is beset by platitudes and meaningless catchphrases. But there are some amazing books out there that are both enjoyable and beneficial. The right book can definitely soothe the soul. Here are some of the titles that have helped to ease our minds and have shown us new ways of looking at the world.
In regard to both writing and life, you can teach people the basics: how to sound like you know what you’re talking about, where to put a period – some degree of technical proficiency and clarity. Harder to pass along are the more ephemeral but essential aspects required for both pursuits, like patience, curiosity, perseverance, the willingness to make and learn from mistakes, and the space between your ears to understand that writing and living can be their own rewards. That last part can be a particularly difficult tenet to accept in Los Angeles, where one’s value is measured by “what you’re working on now;” I wish I’d heeded Lamott’s wry and sympathetic advice when I first came here, but as Lamott rightly points out, getting from stress and self-abuse to appreciation for the journey is worth all the mishegas. Will “Bird By Bird” make you a better writer, or person? Maybe so, maybe not. But it will give you a small but effective beacon to light your way, and some tools to make the path less rough. And that, unto itself, is a lot. – Paul Gaita
In “Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity,” cult filmmaker David Lynch relates his path to discovering Transcendental Meditation and how the daily practice has affected his life and his work. The title refers to his description of his creative process, where he dives deep and catches ideas like fish. There is a lot of information about his work for film buffs, and he encourages readers to also live a healthy life and find their true path. I listened to the audio version of this book and found it very relaxing. Surprisingly, Lynch’s trademark stilted, Midwestern speech becomes as smooth as silk when he wants it to. – Elise Thompson
Sometimes existing in today’s world can feel like dodging bullets in a war zone. Conflicting personalities, seemingly unsolvable issues, self-judgement, regret, anger and confusion can sometimes get the best of even the calmest people out there. Years ago I discovered one tiny book that has helped put me back on track, even when things feel at their most hopeless. I read it over again at least once a year, to give myself a chiropractic adjustment of my mind and soul. It always works wonders. This invaluable gem, “The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, is a deceivingly small and quick read for the power and wisdom that lies inside. Its strength is found in four main tenets: 1) Be Impeccable With Your Word. This means speaking with integrity, avoiding gossip and realizingly that our words are far more powerful than we often credit them. 2) Don’t Take Anything Personally. This is understanding that we each live in our own story and even when something seems directly aimed at us, nothing is never really ever about us- it’s about the person doing the aiming. 3) Don’t Make Assumptions. This one will help us avoid much misunderstanding, because we often jump to conclusions that are far from reality. 4) Always Do Your Best. Sometimes when we are sick or stressed, our best it not as good as it could be. Realize this, forgive yourself and commit to doing better the next time around.
This beautiful miniature book should be assigned to every human being to read once a year. If so we’d avoid the majority of drama, hurt and self-sabotage that we humans are so truly adept at. Do yourself the biggest favor you’ve ever done–read this book, buy it for your family, friends, co-workers and enemies. It is honestly and truly life-changing. – Nikki Kreuzer
This is a collection of five short, pocket-sized books by well-know Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. The one page, single-paragraph chapters offer various life-lesson insights, which show how everyday experiences like eating, walking, sitting, relaxing, and loving can be
enjoyed to their fullest. Whether you meditate before you go to bed, when you get up in the morning, or even when you visit the bathroom, these are the perfect books to have on hand to make your meditative moment more zen-like. You can get the books separately or all together, and read them in any order. Naturally, if you get all five books, you can spread them out throughout your home, leaving one at each of your favorite meditation spots. The books share various meditations, breathing exercises, personal stories, and other techniques on how to enjoy the simple pleasures in life. I’m hoping “How to Quarantine” will be the next book in the series. – Kevin Hopps
Trying to learn an ancient philosophy like Taoism can be daunting. This book takes something that is already a part of our culture, A.A. Milnes’ stories of Winnie the Pooh, as a way to illustrate the concepts of Taoism. Pooh, seemingly just a “silly bear,” is actually a master of the Wu Way, not struggling through life, but flowing like water flows around the rocks. Each of the other characters are used to illustrate unsuccessful life strategies. It is a short, enjoyable read and extremely enlightening. The book now comes with the addition of its follow-up, “The Te of Piglet,” the wisdom of the small, which I didn’t find as edifying, and frankly, it is kind of depressing in comparison to the positive and uplifting “Tao of Pooh.” – Elise Thompson
I once heard a speaker say that when you ask first graders, “Who can draw? Who can sing? Who can dance?” every single one of them raises their hand. But as the audience gets older, fewer and fewer hands are raised. The idea of this book by renowned cartoonist Lynda Barry is that the system gradually squashes our creativity as we grow up. She offers a variety of creative exercises to help you rediscover the free expression of childhood. As you work through the book, your mind relaxes, you become free and your writing improves. In another tome, “Picture This,” The Near-Sighted Monkey helps you learn to draw If nothing else, gluing cotton balls onto a drawing of a chicken is an excellent way to while away the hours. – Elise Thompson
The British-Australian author and Theravadan Buddhist monk, Ajahn Brahm, has a gift for turning pithy and complex spiritual concepts into useful advice that can be acted upon in everyday life. He also has a knack for inducing out-loud laughter as he shepherds you down the path. He has written eight books, with “Who Ordered this Truckload of Dung?” being his most well-known. It is full of entertaining personal anecdotes and traditional Buddhist stories that offer insight into welcoming difficulties instead of struggling with them. Compassion turns out to be a key, if not a weapon, for approaching those people you’d probably rather just burn. Reading this book won’t solve all your problems, but it might just allow you to think about them in a new way and get a different result. It’s both highly entertaining, and highly profound. – Bob Lee
Brahm is also a regular on YouTube, where his “Dhamma Talks” appear periodically. Here’s the most recent, from a week ago today: