You know this state of mind when the New Year approaches and you find your thoughts wandering around existential inquiries such as who I am, where I am heading to or if I am mindful enough? I’ve got that, too. At times like this I tend to turn my energy inwards and reflect upon self improvement, but hopefully there have been books on my way that captivated me both with their narrative and their insights on spirituality. All of them, even though they represent diverse approaches, have influenced my mindset and led me to inspiring revelations about myself and the world around me.
In order of priority:
Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse
“Wisdom cannot be imparted. Wisdom that a wise man attempts to impart always sounds like foolishness to someone else … Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.”
Siddhartha is a spiritual wayfarer on his pilgrimage for enlightenment, whose life presents shady resemblance with the historical Buddha. Throughout his journey he faces multiple revelations but also failures. In spite of two major distractions, the involvement with a courtesan and the amassing of wealth, he is committed to finding awareness on his own and refuses to follow a tutor.
The Prophet is a volume of twenty-eight prose-poems. Almustafa, the main character, returns as a prophet to his hometown and is asked by its people to share his wisdom about universal themes such as life, love, marriage, children, giving, eating and drinking, work, joy and sorrow, houses, clothes, buying and selling, and crime and punishment.
For younger ages check out the animated film inspired by The Prophet.
The saviors of God by Nikos Kazantzakis
“I do not hope for anything. I do not fear anything, I have freed myself from both the mind and the heart, I have mounted much higher, I am free.”
“Love responsibility. Say: “It is my duty, and mine alone, to save the earth. If it is not saved, then I alone am to blame.”
“We came from an abyss of darkness; we end in an abyss of darkness: the interval of light between one and another we name life.”
This masterpiece (originally in greek) contains a series of spiritual exercises, which deal boldly with the hard stuff: the mysteries and contradictions of existence. It can be read under the scope of many layers, as a philosophical confabulation, a spiritual theory, even a political manifesto. This book, other than exposing the common preoccupation and quest of a man’s mind and heart concerning faith on human and on God, serves as a struggle for expressing the author’s inner shout. Lyricism, symbolism and mysticism are his tools of communicating his philosophical ideal.
You can find the full text here: http://www.angel.net/~nic/askitiki.html
The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck
“I define love thus: The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
“If someone is determined not to risk pain, then such a person must do without many things: […] – all that makes life alive, meaningful and significant.”
In The Road Less Traveled psychiatrist M. Scott Peck begins by stating an essential truth: Life is difficult. It is a common misperception that life should be effortless, uncomplicated, content and whatever diverges from this ends up with disappointment and grumble. On the contrary accepting challenges and integrating discipline in our routine helps us conduct a life with realistic expectations and, by extension, a more meaningful one. The author blends psychology and religion in order to demonstrate what attributes lead us to spiritual lives and which are the stages of inner growth.
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir is divided in two sections. Firstly, he recalls his experience in Auschwitz. While everything is taken away from him, Victor Frankl supports that we have the psychological liberty to determine our thoughts and feelings. Although we can’t abstain from pain and distress, we are still able to find meaning in it and review it under a different perspective. Secondly, we are introduced to Frankl’s characteristic “logotherapy”, derived from the greek word “logos”, used here in the sense of “meaning”. Logotherapy assists people in detecting meaning in their lives and use this greater sense of purpose so as to overcome any obstacles.
Tao te ching by Lao Tzu
“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich.”
“A good traveler has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.”
This chinese classic text is a primary source for philosophical and religious Taoism and introduced the Tao principles to thw Western world. Brief, enigmatic and poetic, it includes various topics and can be interpreted in numerous ways, thus making it possible to re-read it with fresh attitude and discover new pearls of wisdom. What is sure is that it is mind-opening.
“You have the freedom to be yourself, your true self, here and now, and nothing can stand in your way”.
“Jonathan Seagull discovered that boredom and fear and anger are the reasons that a gull’s life is so short, and with those gone from his thought, he lived a long fine life indeed.”
Jonathan is a seagull who doesn’t fit in because he craves to excel in flying. This small and easy to read fable symbolises all those people in pursuit of a higher purpose who choose not to conform and persist in their goals despite what their “milieu” thinks.
Way of the peaceful warrior by Dan Millman
“Wake up! If you knew for certain that you had a terminal illness – if you had precious little time left to make use of your life and consider who you are, you’d not waste time on self-indulgence or fear, lethargy or ambition. Be happy now, without reason – or you never will be at all.”
This part-fictional, part-autobiographical story is about a college student and world-class gymnast Dan, who surprisingly doesn’t feel fulfilled. By sheer serendipity he encounters an old man, Socrates, who will eventually become his mentor and spiritual guide. Progressively he realises that happiness in an inside job and shouldn’t be searched in the outer world. The book is simple and enjoyable with a movie adaptation, too.
Which books had an important impact on your life?