reading lists for self-study

A common struggle on the spiritual path is determining where to start, or what to do when we are stuck, especially with the seemingly endless options when we first begin practicing. Contemplation is an important part of any spiritual journey in addition to formal meditation practice. Reading books and listening to lectures from master teachers is one of our best resources for reflection, self-study, and investigation into the nature of life.  Homeschool yourself with these book lists (almost all these books are audiobooks too). Just keep practicing and if you get stuck, email me. I have read every recommended book on this page. Enjoy the insights of these teachers who have walked before us with love in their hearts and the desire to share their wisdom with us. If you are doing the practice and feeling into where there are imbalances, utilize the wisdom of these teachers to help yourself return to harmony. Good luck!

The Directional List

If you don’t know what to do or read next, start here and just pick one of these books – even if you do not like your choice, it will help you gain some direction. Start with what speaks to you (displayed in no particular order). 

The Craving Mind, Judson Brewer
Work, Sex, Money, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Brain Rules, John Medina
Why Buddhism is True, Robert Wright
You Are Here, Thich Nhat Hahn
Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hanson
Habits of a Happy Brain, Loretta Graziano Breuning
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
The End of Your World, Adyashanti
Food Rules, Michael Pollan

How To Rewire Your Brain

One of the most, if not THE MOST remarkable discovery on this century is neuroplasticity – the brain’s natural ability to rewire itself and adapt to new circumstances. This is a series of books for deep diving what we know about the brain, featuring teachers that have a magical way of making these great mysteries very accessible. Reading at least one or two from the Shortlist before jumping around will help deepen the dive.

Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hanson
Brain Rules, John Medina
The Craving Mind, Judson Brewer
The Science of Positivity, Loretta Graziano Breuning
Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson
Your Best Brain, John Medina (Lecture Series)

More curious reads on the brain:
The Mind of God, Dr. Jay Lombard
This is Your Brain on Music, Daniel J. Levitin
Why Buddhism is True, Robert Wright 
The River of Consciousness, Dr. Oliver Sacks
How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan

Transitioning to a Plant-Based Diet

This is my recommended list for anyone who has all the right intentions but no idea where to start when it comes to eating a healthier plant-based diet. Food Rules is an awesome quick read to begin acknowledging what in your diet is not serving your needs. Once you begin to remove all the toxins and things that are slowing down your metabolism, you can focus on rebuilding better habits.

Food Rules, Michael Pollan
Gut, Guilia Enders
The Plant Paradox, Dr. Stephen Gundry
The End of Overeating, David A. Kessler, MD
How to Cook Your Life, Kosho Uchiyama

More on food flavoring and food ethics:
Salt Fat Acid Heat, Samin Nosrat
Eating Animals, Jonathan Safran Foer
The Third Plate, Dan Barber
Food Politics, Marion Nestle
Flavor, Bob Holmes
The Art of Flavor, Daniel Patterson & Mandy Aftel

Connecting with Spirit

As one explores the vast array of the world’s spiritual disciplines, there are emergent themes that seem to be consistent to all people. The differences are not in the wisdom itself, but in the way the teachings are expressed in order for the listener to absorb them. The following list of books are geared towards those who enjoy storytelling as the primary vehicle for connecting with Spirit, featuring some of my favorite reads in Shamanism (in no particular order).

The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz
The Alchemist, Pablo Coehlo
The Wisdom of the Shamans, Don Jose Ruiz
Grow a New Body, Dr. Alberto Villoldo
The Surrender Experiment, Michael A. Singer
The Teachings of Don Juan, Carlos Castaneda
The Teachings of Don Carlos, Victor Sanchez (commentary to The Teaching of Don Juan)
Shamanic Journeying: Beginner’s Guide, Sandra Ingerman
The Prophet, Kahlil Gibran

Spirituality for Nonconformists

Zen particularly speaks to my hard-ass punk rock roots. It’s spirituality stripped of foo-foo nonsense and can really only be practiced by the ultra-disciplined. It requires the effort and awareness that only a nonconformist naturally cultivates. Here is a list of solid reads for the unapologetic who seek a better way (no particular order).

Work Sex Money, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche (spiritual kick in the teeth!)
Against the Stream, Noah Levine
The Book on the Taboo, Alan Watts
Hardcore Zen, Brad Warner
Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Dharma Punx, Noah Levine
Be Angry, His Holiness The Dalai Lama 
Spiritual Graffiti, MC Yogi
Sit Down, Shut Up, Brad Warner

For Empaths and the Highly Sensitive

Some of us have nervous systems that are more sensitive than others, commonly referred to as Highly Sensitive People (HSP) or empaths. HSPs are often drawn to the spiritual and healing arts. If you are the kind of person that likes your privacy, is easily overstimulated, gets antsy in crowds and parties, or could use some help managing your feelings, these books may help! 

The Empath’s Survival Guide, Dr. Judith Orloff (read this one first!)
Boundaries and Protection, Pixie Lighthorse
Living Beautifully, Pema Chödrön
Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, Haemin Sunim
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F**k, Mark Manson
Be Here Now, Ram Dass
The Science of Positivity, Loretta Graziano Breuning
The Art of Solitude, Stephen Batchelor
Love for Imperfect Things, Haemin Sunim

Where Neuroscience Meets the Dharma

Perhaps my favorite synchronicity is the way modern neuroscience is confirming the Buddha’s teachings about the mind from centuries ago. A whole genre of science meeting philosophy is emerging with a beautiful ethic of how to live in a way that honors how our minds naturally work. If this is a new topic for you, I suggest reading these books in order. 

Buddha’s Brain, Rick Hanson
The Craving Mind, Judson Brewer
Why Buddhism is True, Robert Wright
No Self, No Problem, Chris Niebauer
Hardwiring Happiness, Rick Hanson
Buddhism Without Beliefs, Stephen Batchelor

Starting a Yoga Practice

For seven years I practiced asana from one book, then I went into teacher training to deepen my practice. I had never been to a yoga studio when I first entered training; I thought they were gyms and I was way too private about my practice to go to a public class. While I recommend that everyone go to group class now, here are a great set of books that require no teacher to help you get serious about starting yoga! 

Moving Toward Balance: 8 Weeks of Yoga with Rodney Yee, Nina Zolotov & Rodney Yee (this is the book)
Be Here Now, Ram Dass
Inner Engineering, Sadguru
Wheels of Life, Anodea Judith
Perfectly Imperfect, John Baptiste
The Four Desires, Rod Stryker
Light on Life, BKS Iyengar
One Simple Thing, Eddie Stern

Starting a Daily Meditation Practice

Starting a daily meditation practice is arguably the single most important facet of a spiritual practice. You can eat well, be healthy, and be kind, but this may not be enough to help connect you to deeper truths. Only when we come to stillness and turn inward can our journey take a new direction. For years I practiced asana and felt stagnant. I thought that my yoga was my meditation, a moving meditation, and that would be enough. It wasn’t; if you are in a similar boat of putting in effort without meditating and feeling like you have hit a dead end in your practice, formal meditation practice is what is missing. If the cushion still scares you, please enjoy 10% Happier, by Dan Harris, a skeptic’s manifesto of why you should sit down and meditate (not in any particular order, but if read in order, a sequenced introduction to Tibetan Buddhism).

10% Happier, Dan Harris
The Secrets of Meditation, davidji
The Mind Illuminated, Culadasa (John Yates)
Meditation in Action, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
The Path to Insight Meditation, Joseph Goldstein
The Path is the Goal, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
The Gradual Path, Miles Neale (audio only)

WAKE UP! For Those on Plateaus

Each of us will go through stages on the path. This list highlights teachings that helped me break through tough transitions and dig deeper into my practice, confirming my aspiration to become a teacher. These books are NOT in order and they are on very different topics, so I would suggest a little inquiry into each of them before purchasing. 

Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
The End of Your World, Adyashanti
Dream Yoga, Andrew Holechek
After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, Jack Kornfield
The Untethered Soul, Michael A. Singer
The Wisdom of Insecurity, Alan Watts
Don’t Be a Jerk, Bard Warner
Training the Mind, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl
The Future of God, Deepak Chopra
The Science of Enlightenment, Shinzen Young (the book is good, but the lecture series is sooo much better!)
Riding the Ox Home, John Daido Loori Roshi
Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche

Loving Oneself and Others

Openness is the only way to experience life fully. The fear and the pain that come from being shut off are some of the toughest emotions to work through because there is little external force that will help you heal without your internal efforts. Here are some books for coming back to yourself, and bringing peace into all your relationships. Remember, suffering = pain x resistance. Sometimes the answer lies in how we stop resisting, in letting our guard down without feeling vulnerable (no particular order).

Real Love, Sharon Salzberg
Fail, Fail Again, Fail Better, Pema Chödrön
Radical Self-Acception, Tara Brach
A Heart Full of Peace, Joseph Goldstein
The Art of Happiness, His Holiness The Dalai Lama
Smile at Fear, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Living Beautifully, Pema Chödrön
Anger, Thich Nhat Hahn
Work Sex Money, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
Awakening from the Daydream, David Nichtern

Returning to Living Simply

After meditation practice and what we choose to eat, how we keep our surroundings may be the next most important part of spiritual practice. It is no simple task to reduce one’s possessions to the minimum, because it asks us to confront our past. By doing so, we give ourselves better daily opportunities to dwell in the present moment. I recommend reading the first four titles first and in order to inspire this transformative process, then bounce around to the other reads as desired.

The Art of Simple Living, Shunmyo Masuno
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
Things You Can See Only When You Slow Down, Haemin Sunim
The Book of Ichigo Ichie, Héctor García & Fransesc Miralles

The Little Book of Hygge, Meik Wiking
Ikigai, Héctor García & Fransesc Miralles
The Little Book of Lykke, Meik Wiking
Forest Bathing, Dr. Qing Li
You Are Here, Thich Nhat Hahn
Lagom, Niki Brantmark
The Art of Making Memories, Meik Wiking
The Tao of Pooh, Benjamin Hoff

Down with the Dharma: More Buddhist Favorites

After all my personal seeking, I have landed on the Dharma as the basis for how I continue to live my life. As I strip away my own dogmatic principles, I realize that each tradition has its own way of getting back to the same core set of teachings. The language and approach that has been refined for centuries through Buddhist practitioners speaks very clearly and directly to me. Here is an ongoing list of my favorites.

The Way of Zen, Alan Watts
Reflections on Silver River, Ken McLeod
What is This?, Martine & Stephen Batchelor
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki
The Shambala Path, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
The Myth of Freedom, Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche
What Makes You Not a Buddhist, Khyentse Norbu
The Tao of Leadership, John Heider
Buddhism Without Beliefs, Stephen Batchelor
After Buddhism, Stephen Batchelor