I have been teaching meditation for about six years now. And over the course of these years, I’ve read a LOT of books about the practice. There were many that I read once and set aside, but there are some that I come back to over and over. This list is made up of the well-worn, the highlighted and underlined, the books that I have given away and bought again. These are my favorites.
When I first started out on my meditation journey, Jon Kabat-Zinn was my guy. I’m a psychologist and his program, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), is the gold standard in the psych world. Pretty much anytime you read an article touting the benefits of meditation, the information was taken from a study done using MBSR.
This book is a gem because you can turn to any page and find a nugget of wisdom. Each chapter is short, only a couple of pages, and they read like little essays. it’s practical, useful and down-to-earth. It’s a great book for beginners.
That said, after a few years of studying and learning more about the Buddhist practices that JKZ was basing his work on, I began to get a little disenchanted with his dogged secularism.
For a book that explores similar topics, but doesn’t shy away from deeper spiritual content I would suggest
Bhante Gunarantana, the author of this book, is absolutely masterful at revealing deep truths in a completely friendly way. You can just feel the warmth radiating off the pages. I have taught classes around this book for years, and his writing has helped me to understand the Buddha’s teachings in a way that no other text I’ve read has.
The commodification, overuse, and oversimplification of the term mindfulness has rendered it almost meaningless. If you really want to understand the concept of mindfulness as it was originally described by the Buddha, this is your best bet. Coming from the voice of a master, and not from the cheery #inspo language of McMindfulness, you will get a refreshing new understanding of this ancient concept.
It’s admittedly difficult to choose just one Thich Nhat Hahn book, they are all so good (he has published over 100). But I am going to recommend Anger, as I believe it is an important book for our times.
In many spiritual communities, there is a misunderstood notion that any “negative” emotion needs to be done away with completely. But our anger can be a source of wisdom if we learn how to explore it with compassion.
Hahn’s gift is to describe everyday facets of our lives, emotions or situations, and how to apply mindfulness to them in very practical ways. But he does not only discuss anger in the setting of personal relationships, he is also unafraid to speak of anger on a global scale, the anger of large groups and communities. It would probably do us all some good to reflect on his teachings.
Thich Nhat Hahn was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr. King said of Hahn:
“I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of this prize than this gentle monk from Vietnam. He is an Apostle of Peace and Nonviolence. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”
When most people think of yoga, they think of twisting their bodies into pretzel shapes. But there are actually several different lineages of yoga and one, Bhakti Yoga, has little to do with exercise. Bhakti is known as the yoga of devotion, and it is the practice of finding bliss or ecstasy in the everyday gifts of life.
This book is a translation of an ancient text. It is a conversation between the god and goddess Shiva and Shakti, (you could also think of it as a conversation between the masculine and feminine energies of the universe). Lorin Roche has translated it masterfully so that each verse reads like a beautiful poem. He then took one word from each verse and created a meditation inspired by it. There are 112 verses, so 112 different meditations.
I love this book for two reasons. One, if you do the mediations you will find peace and bliss in your practice, without a doubt. They are powerful, and he has an incredible way with words that helps you see the magnificence of the simplest aspects of life.
Two, since there are 112 practices, this is a perfect book to pick up each morning and use as a resource if you are trying to create a daily practice. You can do them in order, or you can flip to any practice at random. You could also find one that you love and stick with it for several days. It is an incredibly gorgeous book, and one that I would never want to be without.
Finally, the last book I’m recommending is less of a meditation book per se, but it’s a useful resource nonetheless.
over the years, a topic that I’ve taught and studied extensively is the Chakra system. Philosophies describing the energy centers of the body are found in multiple different lineages and appear in many different cultures throughout history. But the one that is most familiar to most people currently is the system found in Hindu texts, which describes seven energy systems in the body.
I have found in my own studies that this system follows a lot of what we now know about developmental psychology. I have also found that it maps very well onto Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory many people are familiar with. The Chakra system helps to create a map to healing, by systematically walking through the various aspects of our body, mind and spirit. It’s been among my most popular classes every time I’ve taught it.
This book is wonderful because Caroline Myss does similar comparative work, except across religions. She maps the Chakra system to the Christian sacraments and the Kabbalah tree of life. Again, showing that this system is so universal and valuable enough to stand a significant test of time, and remain relevant even into the 21st century.
She offers anecdotal stories that will help you understand each chakra, and shares wisdom and practices to heal each one.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is interested in learning more about the Chakras. I would also recommend that if you are interested in learning about meditation, the chakras are a great place to start.
We can’t always learn in-person from great teachers, so books can be an invaluable resource. And sometimes reading straight from the original text can be daunting. I’m grateful that these great authors have taken the time to share their wisdom with us!
Note: I have no affiliation with the links I’ve provided. However, if you love books and are not familiar with Thriftbooks, I would highly recommend them too!