Medicine Chest

My Reading List for Peaceful Living

Here are books that have helped me immensely in my journey to inner peace. They will help you too, if you’re willing to put in the work. Consider this an investment in yourself. Aren’t you worth it? Isn’t your peace and happiness worth it? So put down that smartphone and start reading! Note: I’m always adding to this list, so check back often for updates.

Have a book or other resource you’d like to recommend? Email me your recommendation.

General Self-Growth & Enlightenment

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, by Ekhart Tolle – Another absolute must read. Why is it so hard for most of us to be in the moment? What keeps us from being happy and peaceful? The enemy, says Tolle in this modern-day classic, is the ego-based mind, which wants us to be anywhere but the precious NOW. Written in a simple question-and-answer format, this book takes us by the hand and leads us step by step down the path to living a life of inner peace and tranquility. When you finish reading it, you will have a new vocabulary for the way you think about yourself, your inner world, and even your pain (quiz: what is the “pain body?). And if you’re like me, you will find yourself going back again and again for a refresher.

The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom, by Don Miguel Ruiz – Learn to live by the “four agreements” laid out in this powerful book and your life is guaranteed to be a lot more peaceful. For me, the most powerful and life-changing agreement is to “not take anything personally.” Repeat after me: Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering. Thank you, Don Miguel.

A Course in Miracles – for reframing how we think about God, sin, forgiveness, and other destructive notions that block us from the peace and joy that is our birthright. Note: ACIM (as it’s commonly called) is not a quick read. It’s as titled: a course that takes time and a state of readiness. Approach it with an open mind. I’ve been working on my copy for years and don’t expect ever to be done.

Depression

Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, by David D. Burns – A seminal book in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), Feeling Good teaches the power of your thoughts on your moods and how to recognize, and reject, self-defeating thought patterns that fuel the cycle of depression and anxiety. This book gave me many of the foundational tools that I have used throughout my adult years, but alone, it wasn’t enough for me. I needed to combine the CBT tools with the power of gratitude and unconditional self-love and acceptance.

Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, by Martin Seligman – How do you explain things that happen to you? Do you see defeats as temporary or permanent? Seligman, a leading expert on depression and father of the modern school of positive psychology, discusses his well-researched theory of “learned helplessness” and how a person’s cognitive style – optimistic or pessimistic – can affect his mood, health, and quality of life. While a bit dry at times, this book, along with Feeling Good, was foundational in teaching me skills for reframing my thinking and taming my moods. The good news: if you have pessimistic tendencies, as I do, you can learn to be an optimistic.

Emotional Sensitivity

The Highly Sensitive Person, by Elaine Aron – This groundbreaking book changed the way I looked at myself. For years I didn’t get why I felt things so much more deeply than other people. I felt misunderstood, out of place, a unicorn. Then I stumbled on a simple self-assessment test from Arun, got and read her book, and learned that I was one of the 15-20 percent of the population who are “highly sensitive.” Right away, I had a construct for understanding and accepting myself. Arun is a clinical psychologist and an HSP herself, and her writing is backed by years of real-world research. If you are easily overstimulated and struggle with emotions that sometimes feel too big for you, get this book. It could change your life, as it did mine.

If You Feel Too Much, by Jamie Tworkowski – This poetic, beautifully written collection of personal vignettes (or “songs,” as the writer terms them) will move and inspire anyone who is walking through the lonely darkness of depression. Tworkowski has been there, and he makes it clear that it’s okay to not be okay. You’ll find company in this book.

Anxiety & Panic Attacks

Hope and Help for Your Nerves, by Claire Weekes. If you are suffering from severe anxiety, panic attacks, are agoraphobic and housebound, or are otherwise bewildered by the sensations your body is bringing you, this classic book is for you. It was written in the 1960s and the language feels a bit dated, but its wisdom is timeless. You’ll find here clear, simply written explanations of the chemistry of anxiety; how we get ourselves into states of nervous overload; and how to get back to emotional health. For months I carried this little pocket book with me to refer to whenever I was distressed by the baffling sensations my body was bringing me. It was instrumental in helping me find my way out of the Chinese finger trap of crippling, self-generated fear.

The Ten Best-Ever Anxiety Management Techniques: Understanding How Your Brain Makes You Anxious and What You Can Do to Change It, by Margaret Wehrenberg – Chronic anxiety is like being lost in a bewildering maze of false mirrors and mirages where nothing makes sense and every door leads back to itself. This book, written by the author of The Anxious Brain (also worth reading), provides a comprehensive, easy-to-read guide to help you understand what is going on in your body when you’re anxious, and the best techniques for getting out of the maze.

Meditation & Mindfulness

Full Catastrophe Living: Using the Wisdom of Your Body and Mind to Face Stress, Pain and Illness, by Jon Kabat-Zinn – Don’t let the name of this book mislead you. Life is not a “full catastrophe,” although it does present us with plenty of stresses along the way. In his seminal book, Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts, identifies the sources of stress in our lives and offers the antidote in the form of meditation and daily “mindfulness” training. Lots of helpful tips and practices to use in your healing.   

Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn – This hugely influential and popular book from Kabat-Zinn, which followed Full Catastrophe Living, has introduced millions of people to the healing power of mindfulness. To be mindful means to be in the precious moment, where life actually happens, rather than in the fretful, illusory territory of the past and future where our minds want to take us. Kabat-Zinn teaches how to get off the treadmill of insane doing-doing-doing and cultivate of state of “beingness” that brings – ah! – peace. A modern classic and a must read.

Meditation for Life, by Martine Batchelor – Written by a former Buddhist nun, this book is an accessible, easy-to-read, and often funny guide to the practice of meditation for the beginner.

The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation, by Thich Nhat Hanh – Read this along with Meditation for Life, The Power of Now, and Wherever You Go, There You Are as your introduction to meditation and mindfulness. A Vietnamese-born monk and Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches – in simple, accessible prose – how to become more aware and mindful in the simple things of life, and in the process, how to find that place of ever-present calm within ourselves. After reading this book, you’ll never view washing the dishes or eating a tangerine the same way.

Also highly recommended from the prolific Thich Nhat Hanh: Peace in Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life and The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching (reviewed below).

Buddhism

The Myth of Freedom, by Chogyam Trungpa – In this book by the highly influential Buddhist meditation master (who died in 1887), Trungpa distills Buddhist teachings in accessible language that is easy to follow and apply in our daily lives. Christians (which I am) sometimes make the mistake of avoiding Buddhism because they think it’s a religion. It’s not – it’s a practice for freeing ourselves from the chains of our judgments, preconceptions, and beliefs that impede our peace. This is true freedom, not the faux kind offered by a world of material things. 

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching: Transforming Suffering Into Peace, by Thich Nhat Hanh – Another excellent introduction into Buddhism by the amazingly prolific Thich Nhat Hanh.

When Things Fall Apart, by Pema Chodron – Chodron, a former student of Trungpa’s, heads a Tibetan monastery in Canada. She’s also a fantastic writer and speaker who has impacted the lives of millions with her gentle, compassionate, and profoundly wise teachings on spiritualism and peaceful living. This beautiful book brings together some of her most powerful and instructive talks. Also invest in a couple of her audiobooks (I especially like “Getting Unstuck”) and listen to them while you’re driving.

Oldies But Goodies

As a Man Thinketh, by James Allen – This little masterpiece by Englishman James Allen is as relevant today as it was when originally published in 1902. Allen’s premise, which he hammers at over and over, is that our thoughts, and nothing else, determine our success and happiness in life. You will find yourself underlining Allen’s pearls of wisdom and going back to them again and again for reminders that “all that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is a direct result of his own thoughts.”

Byways of Blessedness, by James Allen – Another masterpiece by James Allen. Written in 1904, it is a classic guide to cultivating right states of mind and wise modes of action that yield the fruit of peace and joy.

Psycho-Cybernetics, Dr. Maxwell Maltz – Despite not exactly a warm and fuzzy title, this book is widely considered one of the greatest self-help books of all time. Maltz was a plastic surgeon, of all things, but somewhere during his life he came to realization that it was the inside stuff that really mattered. This book, published in 1960, contains plenty of sage advice and practical techniques for mastering the mind and replacing destructive old mental scripts with more helpful stuff. Worthwhile reading for any student of the self.

The Miracle of Right Thought, by Dr. Orlson Swett Marden – Another oldie-but-goodie, published in 1910. Marden overcame tough circumstances (he lost both of his parents by the age of seven) and became a self-made man: a successful doctor, businessman, and writer. He gives ageless advice on how to harness the power of your thinking to create what you want from life. Marden’s self-help writing and work have been greatly influential on many later 20th century writers, from Dale Carnegie to Anthony Robbins. 

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