Books

This is the place where I provide brief synopses of books that I’ve read and found moving, inspiring or helpful to me, with links to more information and sites where they can be purchased or downloaded.

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The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz

Of all the books that I’ve read throughout my life, this one most closely describes what I feel and believe in my heart is the way to live a life that feels authentic, meaningful and positive, and allows the space and understanding for others to do the same. It proposes that we make four simple agreements with ourselves and that we then use these to guide us in all situations and relationships. The agreements are:

  1. Be impeccable with your word
  2. Don’t take it personally
  3. Don’t make assumptions
  4. Always do your best

It explains how we’re raised and conditioned to do the opposite of these things, making countless anxiety-inducing, self-defeating and often confusing and conflicting unspoken agreements, with ourselves and with other people, in their place. It gives examples throughout, to illustrate the points being made (examples that resonated strongly with me as true to my own experience and reflective of ‘Western society’ as a whole), and it talks honestly about how difficult it can be to undo a life-time of conditioning to live in this more honest and intuitive way.

The Four Agreements describes how replacing our complex and energy-sapping learned agreements with these simple but personally-challenging new agreements puts us on the path to discovering who we truly are and to living authentic, meaning-filled and joyful lives. It is a gentle book, filled with understanding and encouragement to treat ourselves and other people with the patience and compassion that is needed to bring about any real and lasting change. It is a gentle signpost to ‘the possible’ and a practical tool to help us connect with the shy person that we all carry within our hearts…the person that we were born to be…

NB: The opening ‘story-telling’ introduction is quite mystical in tone, which may not appeal to your personal taste. If this is the case, I’d advise you to move straight to Chapter 1, which is steeped in the reality of the world we experience in the Here and Now…as is the rest of the book…

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The Prophet – Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet is a work of fiction, telling the story of a wise man who, on leaving an island where he has lived, is asked by the islanders to share his wisdom for one last time. He does this in response to questions about Life’s most profound experiences, such as Love; Death; Good & Evil; Pleasure and Self-knowledge. It’s a challenging but beautiful book, reflecting both the light and dark aspects of Life itself and, although written as a work of prose, its lyrical style reads like poetry that speaks directly to the heart and soul. Read as a guide to fully embracing the experience of Life, it encourages the reader to welcome all that Life has to offer with an open, enquiring and uncomplaining heart. It has never been out of print since its first publication in 1923, and has been translated into over 100 different languages.

Excerpt: 'On Pain'
“Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun,
so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life,
your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart,
even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.”

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The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle

The Power of Now has become a modern-day classic for readers interested in spiritual development and has been personally helpful to me in finding words and simple descriptions for things that I had only understood in an experiential way before. For example, it proposes that all negative emotional states are just variations of one common Pain Body that exists in the world, and that each of us perpetuates the existence of that pain body, to a greater or lesser extent, based upon our life experience, our level of awareness of it and our personal behavioural choices.

Its central premise is the essential truth that ‘all we ever really have is the present moment’ (even though the majority of us spend most of our time mentally living in the past or worrying about the future), and that we allow our defensive, perpetually-thinking, worrying minds to detrimentally dominate our daily experiences and life choices instead of attuning ourselves to the instinctive wisdom that lies within us.

The book proposes that the starting point of all wisdom and transformation from this state of painful Mind-domination is let go of our resistance to anything that is ‘not to our Ego’s liking’ and to surrender to the reality of each present moment, without labelling it, judging it, or finding it lacking in any way. It explains that if we can learn to adopt this attitude of surrender to ‘what actually is’, we’re less likely to activate the pain body we carry within us (and the strong emotions that go hand-in-hand with it) leaving our minds more able to think clearly, and enabling us to make more positive and beneficial choices.

Excerpt: ‘The Meaning of Surrender’

“To some people, surrender may have negative connotations, implying defeat, giving up, failing to rise to the challenges of life, becoming lethargic, and so on. True surrender, however, is something entirely different. It does not mean to passively put up with whatever situation you find yourself in and to do nothing about it. Nor does it mean to cease making plans or initiating positive action. Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to, rather than opposing, the flow of life.”

If frustration, anger or impatience are common emotional experiences for you this may be a book that you find helpful. I read it in the middle of a two-week Spanish grammar course, after being reduced to tears of frustration end the end of week one. It totally transformed my attitude to the course, enabled me to laugh off my frustration at the ‘mental blocks’ that I’d experienced and to make real progress in my learning during week two.

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The Little Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Little Prince was first published in 1943 as a children’s book but, since then, has sold over 200 million copies world-wide, making it one of the best-selling books in publishing history. The reason is simple, it explores profound subjects that confuse and confound most of us during our lives (eg: love, heart-break, vanity, disappointment, friendship, work, status, power, life-purpose) and unravels them in the simple and beautiful language of a children’s tale.

Through the eyes of the book’s narrator, a French pilot who has crash-landed in a desert, we meet ‘The Little Prince’, who has travelled from a different planet, and we come to learn about his life, his challenges and his disappointment in love. We learn of the strange people he has met on other planets (all of whom represent some unhealthy aspect of human nature and society) and we begin to see, through his child-like descriptions, the various types of denial and madness that form part of our adult, civilised world.

Through his time spent with the Little Prince, the pilot slowly reconnects with the clear-thinking and clear-seeing child he once was, in the process reconnecting with his heart, and releasing the impatience, anger and frustration of his adult situation and self.

This is a book that could be read as ‘a children’s story’ or, as millions before have done, with an open heart and mind, discovering the deeper, wiser messages that it contains within.

One of the book’s most famous and often-quoted observations about Life is:

And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

– The Little Prince

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