“The body’s life is the life of sensations and emotions. The body feels real hunger, real thirst, real joy in the sun or snow, real pleasure in the smell of roses or the look of a lilac bush, real anger, real sorrow, real tenderness, real warmth, real passion, real hate, real grief. All the emotions belong to the body and are only recognised by the mind.”
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A few of my all-time favorite titles on the subjects of mind, body, healing, Dharma and psychotherapy.
Psychotherapy and Buddhism
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha, Tara Brach
If you struggle with the deep-seated belief that something is wrong with you (and who doesn’t?), this is the book for you. Brach, a Buddhist-oriented psychotherapist, explores how clarity and compassion can be applied to self-judgment, shame, fear, and that negative soundtrack inside your head. This is a compassionate, accepting, thoroughly wonderful book.
Chasing Elephants, Diane Shainberg
A small, simple, wise book by a Zen priest/psychotherapist, on the inner transformation that occurs through the practice of open-hearted awareness.
Toward a Psychology of Awakening, John Welwood
Welwood is of my favorite East/West synthesisers, and this book, his seventh, brings together everything he’s written about in a deep, clear, beautifully structured way. A thought-provoking exploration of the relationship between personal growth and spiritual development.
Buddhism and Meditation
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche
Beautifully written, and a superb introduction to Tibetan Buddhism. While emphasis is placed on working with death and dying, there is plenty of material for living as well.
Wake Up to Your Life, Ken McLeod (also unfetteredmind.org)
The book is one of the best practical guides to meditation I’ve found. The website offers clear step-by-step guidance through various aspects of Vajrayana Buddhism, including meditation instructions and a practice matrix synthesising study, reflection and meditation on various subjects. Yes, you still need a teacher, but this is excellent for work on your own.
Carefree Dignity and Fearless Simplicity, Tsoknyi Rinpoche
Articulate, playful, intelligent teachings from this Tibetan lama, a son of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche.
Healing the Soul in the Age of the Brain: Becoming Conscious in an Unconscious World, Elio Frattaroli, M.D.
Written by a psychiatrist with enormous intellectual reach, this book takes on the Medical Model of the brain as a machine, the delusory hope that emotional disturbances can be ‘fixed’ by taking pills. Brave for this psychiatrist! Frattaroli writes movingly and well of the intimacy of psychotherapy, and of what happens for the doctor as well as the patient. It’s a wake-up call to the profession to listen to a lot more than Prozac—to view symptoms like anxiety and depression “not merely as a chemical imbalance in the brain, but as a wake-up call for the soul.”
Addiction to Perfection, Marion Woodman
Profound wisdom from a Jungian psychotherapist on the roots of addiction in eating disorders, substance abuse, and compulsive behaviors. She sees all these as a hunger for spiritual fulfillment, ultimately released by discovering the wisdom and power of the feminine.
Healing Through the Dark Emotions, Miriam Greenspan
A very conscious, alchemical approach to “the art and magic of keeping your heart open in the presence of pain”— trusting the dark emotions of grief, fear and despair, and how when fully accepted they transform into gratitude, joy and faith in life. It may not sound that attractive, but it works.
The Language of Emotions, Karla McLaren
This woman is a genius! She writes in a disarmingly straightforward way about skilfully working with the emotions—neither repressing them nor haphazardly expressing them. Lots of overall practices, and specific chapters on anger, fear, grief, shame, depression, hatred, and other unpopular states of being.
Healing into Life and Death, Stephen Levine
Levine worked with the terminally ill, the dying, and the imprisoned for more than 20 years. His wise voice is heard in many books—this is my favorite. It eloquently describes the deepest ways to work with pain and grief, interspersing guided meditations with the experiences of Levine and the people he’s worked with.
Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting—Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn
Brilliant, to-the-point, short chapters, the kind you can read late at night and glean inspiration from even before falling asleep with the book on your chest. This emotionally intelligent book talks about parenting as spiritual practice, which it is—and how the best gift we can give our children is our own “nonjudgmental, conscious, fully accepting presence.”
Listening to Midlife, Mark Gerzon
On turning the midlife crisis into a midlife quest.
The Healing Path, Marc Ian Barasch
Illness is often a catalyst for deep personal change. This book explores the body/mind connection in healing and the spiritual aspects of illness and health. Barasch is a great writer, and he speaks from his own experience as well as bringing in that of others.
Free Play: Improvisation in Life and Art, Stephen Nachmanovitch
A completely unique little book on the mystery of creativity. Read it and savor.
Soulcraft: Crossing into the Mysteries of Nature and the Psyche, Bill Plotkin
A ‘survival guide for the soul’ by an eco-therapist skilled at combining the natural world with soul psychology.
Living Your Dreams, Gayle Delaney
A very practical guide exploring the purpose, message, and meaning of dreams. How to interview your dreams to discover what they’re telling you, how to interpret them to get immediate feedback on your life, and how to incubate dreams to get answers to your questions.