So you wanna get your shit together, but you’re a little stuck? I’ve been there. Here are a few books that have helped me get unstuck. Some of them are good, some of them are great, and some of them are only okay, but they’ve all helped in some way.
These books are in no particular order (except that the book I think is the most important comes first), and this is the first of two posts, which means that I think there are actually ten books that might be helpful, but I can only handle writing about five at a time.
This book has changed my life every single time I’ve read it, which is three times. It change my life the first time in 2002 by introducing me to Buddhism in a practical, this-is-what-this-shit-has-to-do-with-your-real-life sort of way. It changed my life two years ago when I got dumped and I needed to figure out how to feel human, and it changed my life again when my now wife and I hooked back up. We read it together and I think it helped make my spiritual path understandable to her. (Plus, now she really digs Trungpa.)
What is it about? That is such a good question. Trungpa uses a non-sectarian approach to explain life, the universe, the quest for self-knowledge, and how to get by in the world in a peaceful, self-aware way and why that’s important. It is not actually a book about Buddhism. It is a book with a Buddhist approach that can be utilized by anyone on any spiritual path. I own three copies of this book and have it downloaded on two kindles. I give it out to anyone who is having problems getting by or who seems to need a little extra wisdom. I refer to it constantly in my classes, in my writing, and in my internal dialogue.
This is a collection of essays by the lifehacking gurus at 99U. They are all just a few pages long, which makes reading super digestible. This book is the definition of practicality geared towards creative types that aren’t always known for being that practical. It has strategies for time management and becoming more creatively productive. This little book is the reason why I have designated times to check email and designated times to “be creative.”
Since I first read this book a few years ago, I have come back to it often. Since I am trying (and not always succeeding) at implementing some of the strategies, I use it as sort of a check-in book to see if I’m staying on track. It’s not just all dry routines, either. Some of the essays are interviews with or musings from super interesting people like Seth Godin. If you have ideas, but have issues when it comes to making things happen or if you are constantly working but don’t see results, this is a solid read.
If you are only ever going to read one book about yoga philosophy is your whole life, please let it be this one. Especially if you’ve tried to get down with Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, but they seem a little unapproachable. It doesn’t matter if you’ve read the Bhagavad Gita. It doesn’t matter if you can do down dog or even child’s pose. This book is about finding the really for real yoga and being a nicer person.
Ram Dass has a beautiful way of making esoteric, foreign ideas come alive for contemporary readers. He does this without being patronizing, which is a major feat for a former academic. An academic that spend years dropping acid with Timothy Leary, I might add. If you want a non-judgy book of yoga theo-philosophy, start here. End here. Be here now.
(Like what I did there, yoga nerds?)
I want to start out by offering a disclaimer. I spent a lot of this book wondering if the author was insane or full of shit, and desperately wishing that she had a better editor. Because it’s a book by an astrologer/psychic/Yale grad about how there is a Supreme Organizing Force in the Universe and if we just get out of the way and look for signs that the Divine is sending, then our lives will fall into place, and I have a really complicated relationship to Authors Who Needlessly Capitalize Words In Order To Make Them Seem Sacred and use positive psychology-type speak about how if we just think right our lives will be perfect. Also, she talks a lot about being in traffic, which sort of feels like being in traffic.
BUT I stuck with the book and Tosha sort of grew on me. It’s a book of anecdotal stories about her everyday life and the everyday lives of her clients and friends as told by someone who sees everything as guided by the Divine. The stories are more or less engaging. Why did I stick with it? Because I kept thinking about how I thought the author was crazy and that made me realize that I was really judging her, so I decided that for one day I would look at my life as though it was arranged by Divine Order. And that day was pretty fucking good, so I tried it the next day and that day was pretty good too. I do actually sort of believe that that’s true, but I have had a hard time seeing it in my everyday and this book helped. So there you have it.
So, I’m a creative person, but I’m also a super OCD planner and sometimes that combination gets me chasing my tail for days. This book is like the “How to Make Animals out of Egg Cartons” type of craft books that I loved as a kid, but for grown ups. It sends you out on adventures and assignments and forces you to look at the world differently. Sure, there might not be that much in here that you couldn’t think up on your own, but since you probably haven’t gone ahead and organized your daily adventures into a super neat format, why not rely on Keri Smith? Plus there’s this list of guidelines, which basically cover all the things you need to do to live a happy, creative life:
The book isn’t really a book and it isn’t really a journal. It’s a list of experiments and explorations with some space at the back to record your observations. If you’re uptight, you need this. If you aren’t uptight, it will be right up your alley. If you’re looking to get out of whatever box you’re thinking in, it’s required
That’s it for now, y’all. Stayed tuned for the next episode. And until then, check out my recent piece, Practice Makes Progress, on why and how having a set of daily practices can change your life.