Essential reading on the path to becoming your true self

The books that have impacted my life are my most important possessions (or experiences if I got them from the library or electronically).  I’ve complied a growing list here that hope you find useful (in no particular order).  As well, chime in and let me know what you read (and why).

1.  Personal Growth

Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior by Chogyam Trungpa–What I like about this book is well, everything.  Trungpa takes very deep rooted principles and puts them not only in understandable terms, but also uses very good analogies.  For example, the idea of a warrior, a bow and arrow are a central theme but not used in the traditional sense of violence.  He flips what is modern day heroism and bravery by highlighting often forgotten or downplayed human qualities.  He was also Pema Chodron’s teacher (very famous modern day author) so if you would like a peak behind her writing and into her formal training, then I highly recommend this book.

Almost anything by Pema Chodron but I’d start with the 3 listed below.  I won’t annotate all 3 of them but why I love her teachings is because she puts complex philosophies and emotions into very meaningful ways.  She is clear, honest, walks her talk and is open about what challenges her.  What else would you want in a teacher?  The titles below speak for themselves.

Siddhartha by Herman Hesse-I have read this book 3 times but it wasn’t until the last reading that I fully appreciated it’s deep simplicity.  It is a very easy read and you could do it in about 2-3 sittings.  The book highlights the Buddha’s life as the human being that he was and his quest for his true self.  What I like about it the most is how Hesse focused on what could be perceived as failures as the main teachers and learning events.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger-I think most people have read this book and what I like most about it was just how Salinger put it out there at how isolated one can feel despite being surrounded by others.

Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl-I think this is the book that has had the most profound impact on me when reading it.  It is the essence of “It is not the situation, but your reaction to it”.  If you read one book on this list, read this one.

Be here now by Ram Dass–This is an odd book to say the least. It is written like a graphic novel/doodle pad/acid trip.  It is almost like a medical reference book and you pick it up when you need it, read a few pages, and then put it down again.  But, it contains some very good words (and drawings) of introspection, radical new ways of viewing the world and basic goodness.

Be love now by Ram Dass–This is written like an actual book about 40 years after “Be Here Now”.  Personally, I like it more than “Be Here Now” because it reads like his biography of how he left Harvard, explains a great deal of Indian philosophy and opens up about his relationship with his guru, Maharaj-ji.

The Indie Spiritualist by Chris Grosso–I went through 3 reactions to this book: I love it, this is really fluff, to I like it.  I loved it because I loved how honestly he wrote and put himself out there warts and all.  I did struggle a bit with his lack of depth on some topics like yoga and how new-agey a lot of his experiences seemed.  Then I came back to really liking the book because his journey (like all of ours) is very meaningful and by him sharing it, he not only helped himself but also a lot of other people as well.

Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser–I read this just after my father died.  I wasn’t very close to him but a death in the family is a big deal.  This book is a collection of stories of various people who went through hard times and what these hard times taught them.  This is the book that really started me to look at all experiences as teachers and remove the labels of good or bad.

A Quiet Courage by Paula Todd–This book I read the week I separated from my wife.  Much like “Broken Open” it is a collection of people’s stories but what makes it different is that it highlights their individual journeys in becoming their true selves despite many and/or daunting challenges.  I defy you not to cry (and then smile all day).

Undisputed Truth by Mike Tyson and Larry Sloman–If you want honest, read this.

Taming Your Gremlin: A Surprisingly Simple Method for Getting Out of Your Own Way by Rick Carson–This was one of the first personal development books I ever read and I found it very useful.  Carson uses some very clever analogies that talks about the negative voices in your head and how to deal with them.  A very helpful read.

Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Heath Brothers –This book is brilliant. If you are trying to change habits, then this book will help.  They lay out a very good analogy of an elephant (your heart and motivation), the rider on top (your brain and ideas) and the path (your environment) and how to effectively get your elephant down the path.

The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance by W. Timothy Gallwey–Although this book uses tennis as the vehicle of the message, it really has nothing to do with tennis.  Gallwey breaks your mind down into 2 parts and provides tools to be your true self regardless of the situation.


2.  Yoga and Meditation

Guruji: A Portrait of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois Through the Eyes of His Students by Guy Donahaye and Eddie Stern–This book is about the Guru of Ashtanga Yoga who passed in 2009.  I unfortunately never got a chance to meet him but do study annually with his grandson, R. Sharath Jois.  This book is a compilation of mostly his western students of the years from when he was first “discovered” living and teaching in Mysore.  If you have ever practiced yoga of any kind, then Pattabhi Jois had some influence.  As well, if you are interested about strong student/teacher relationships and the dedication to personal development, then this book will provide you with valuable insight.

Light on Yoga by B.K.S. Iyengar–Iyengar’s book in the 60’s gave the West a real look into not only yoga, but Indian culture and the mind of true Guru.  This book can be accredited by many of our senior and initial yoga teachers here in the west as their introduction to a life long pursuit of personal development and instrumental in helping them finding their true selves.

Light on Life by B.K.S. Iyengar–Published 40 years after Light on Yoga, this book is less focused on the actual postures and physical aspects of yoga and more on the internal effects and philosophy of yoga.  What I found very helpful in this book was the information and techniques he used about changing habits.

Health, Healing, and Beyond: Yoga and the Living Tradition of T. Krishnamacharya by T. K. V. Desikachar–Krishnamacharya is the yogi that really kept yoga from dying out in India at the turn of the century.  This book is written by his son and gives valuable insight into the life, teachings, personality and teachings of his father and guru.  The parts I enjoyed were Desikachar’s observations of not just what his father taught, but how he taught it.

The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice by T. K. V. Desikachar–This was one of the first books I bought about yoga.  I found it very helpful in not only explaining terms but also a gentle but dedicated approach.  Since then, I have studied strictly Ashtanga Yoga, but the principles in this book provided me with a good foundation on how to approach my yoga practice and endeavours in life.

A Path with Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield–I like Mr. Kornfield a lot.  This is the only book I have read by him but have listened to many of his talks.  He is funny, light and full of knowledge on not only the techniques he teaches but also on how to navigate through many of the pitfalls and perils of your mind.  The book also provides a lot of personal stories on his extensive training in Asia and the challenges he as faced along the way.

Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings by A. G. Mohan–The author, A.G. Mohan, was a student of Krishnamacharya for 18 years.  The book is about not only the life of Krishnamacharya, but also the almost daily interactions and classes that Mohan had with him in his humble, little house.  You get a real sense of Krishnamacharya’s mind, attitude, dedication and overall confident humility.

Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy Gregor Maehle–This book is divided into 2 sections as stated in the title: practice and philosophy.  The first half outlines the the entire primary series of Ashtanga yoga with very in depth, anatomical explanations of the postures as well as the reasons, importance and possible pitfalls of each posture.  The second half are the yoga sutras with the Sanskrit, English translations and interpretations/analysis.  What I like most about Maehle is his very humble approach to his writings and teachings. You really get a feel of his connection to the lineage and the depth of his knowledge and dedication.  He is not writing the book to show off, but to rather share.  I think it is the best book on the primary series out there.

Ashtanga Yoga – The Intermediate Series (Ashtanga Yoga Intermediate Series) by Gregor Maehle–This is the sequel to “Ashtanga Yoga” and breaks down the Intermediate (or Second) Series. He does provide some history to Sanskrit and Yoga History but the vast majority of the book is dedicated to the asanas (postures) and like the first book, he is very detailed on the anatomy, importance and pitfall and problems a practitioner may encounter.


3.  Great Fiction

Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse

A Million Little Pieces by James Frey

Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

Tandia by Bryce Courtenay

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields


4. Great Non-Fiction

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

My Friend Leonard by James Frey

Into thin Air by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild by John Krakauer

3 cups of Deceit by John Krakauer

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall

One River by Wade Davis

The Diary of Anne Frank by Anne Frank

Cry Freedom by Richard Attenborough

Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing

A Boat in Our Baggage: Around the World With a Kayak by Maria Coffey

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick

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