Abandon Text!

W. H. Auden once said: "Poems are not finished; they are abandoned." I have been abandoning writing projects for many years, since only the pressure of deadline and high expectations ever got me to finish, or even start, anything of merit. This blog is an attempt to create a more consistent, self-directed writing habit. Hopefully a direction and voice will emerge.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Top Ten Short Spiritual Books

At the SKS meeting last night one of the students asked me for a reading list. "I'm looking for something that's not too long, something I have a chance of finishing," she said. It's a sentiment I run into a lot -- people just starting out on the spiritual path want to engage the work, but they don't have the fortitude just yet to tackle a 500-page tome. The bookstores are full of light-and-airy spiritual books you could read on the can . . . but what's actually worth reading?

So here's my from-the-hip top-ten list of short, accessible books with spiritual themes. (This is not the same as my top-ten list of greatest spiritual books of all time. Alas, the best is not always for the beginning.) :
  • On Having No Head, by Douglas Harding. Douglas Harding is the all-time master of "start where you are." His spiritual path begins and ends with one's one direct experience, and he writes about it with simplicity and directness.
  • Mount Analogue, by Rene Daumal. An allegory of the spiritual life, this story tells of a team of mountain climbers who seek out to find and climb a mythical mountain that joins the earth to heaven.
  • Tao Te Ching, by Lao Tzu. There's a reason this one gets on nearly everyone's list. Both simple and profound, it expresses how eternal truths manifest in the world.
  • The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. A series of letters written by a senior devil to a junior devil, teaching him in the art of temptation. Practically no other book illustrates the psychological aspects of spiritual life better than this slim volume.
  • The Great Divorce, by C.S. Lewis. If you liked Screwtape, you'll love The Great Divorce. A group of souls in hell are given the opportunity to take a bus ride to Heaven. There they meet souls who try to persuade them to stay . . . but most don't.
  • The Death of Ivan Ilyich, by Leo Tolstoy. If you want to know what it's like to die, and undergo the transformations that come from facing death, this is as close as you will come without going their yourself.
  • Franny and Zooey, by J.D. Salinger. Salinger is only surpassed by Tolstoy in his ability to use the story as a means of spiritual transmission.
  • The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. Rumi is a Persian poet and mystic, whose world influence is on a par with Shakespeare. He is one of the greatest spiritual poets; only T.S. Eliot can compare.
  • Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg. A nice introduction to writing as meditation, this is both inspiring and practical. I got a lot of mileage out of her exercises.
  • The Power of Now, by Eckhart Tolle. This is longer than the others, but it makes the list for its accessibility. Tolle is a contemporary enlightened man, with a knack for saying profound things without the usual murkiness of transcendence. If possible, get the audio version so you can hear him read it -- for some reason, his voice conveys the truth as much as his words.

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