On the morning of my 45th birthday, I woke from a dream in which I was given the following guidance: “From here on, your job is to practice lovingkindness. Today you are getting a massage from a friend. Ask her which book to read on the subject.”
Being an interpreter of dreams and a bookseller for many years, I took this advice seriously. I asked my friend her opinion, and that very afternoon I bought my first of many copies of Lovingkindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness by Sharon Salzburg (Shambhala, 2002). In it the author advises: “We just settle back and plant the seeds of kindness without worrying about the immediate result. That is our work … the seed will bear fruit in its own time.”
This book has helped me free myself of family entanglements and navigate difficult passages with friends, all the while forgiving myself for any unskillful behavior. What this experience taught me is that books come to us, speak our names, and demand that we learn what’s between their covers.
Books are for reference, revelation, and reverie. Today’s burgeoning library of alternative titles features many eloquent, informed writers. The following list is my personal top ten, books that lie tattered from repeated reading at home, occupying coveted sites such as open-faced on the kitchen counter or in permanent residence on my bedside table. May these titles, like old friends, provide wise counsel in your journey toward well-being. And happy holidays!
1. Hope’s Edge: The Next Diet for a Small Planet
by Frances Moore Lappé and Anna Lappé (Jeremy P. Tarcher, 2003)
Genre: Environment/health reference
Why it will change your life: Veteran visionary Lappé and her daughter produce another classic as they travel to five continents, exploring local resistance to corporate globalization. They bring alive a far-reaching vision for social and environmental transformation with stories of real-life heroes in Kenya, Brazil, Bangladesh, and beyond. “Each choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want,” say the authors. The mother-daughter team spices up the tome with vegetarian culinary delights, such as Frisian Oat Curry and Chocolate Eclipse, the latter pairing buttermilk with dark chocolate for a frothy treat. Hungry yet? This is indeed the recipe for a great read.
Perfect gift for: Grandmothers, mothers, and daughters. Share the perennial wisdom of this book together.
2. Healing With Whole Foods: Asian Traditions and Modern Nutrition
by Paul Pitchford (North Atlantic, 2002)
Genre: Health reference
Why it will change your life: This is one of the more helpful books in the “food as medicine” genre. Did you know too much salt can make you hostile? Learn about the different healing properties of all kinds of green foods, from spirulina to barley grass, and discover which will work best for your body chemistry. The book includes healthy vegetarian recipes and an extensive section on seaweed. The cooking portion also offers hints on how to beautifully cut and present vegetables.
Perfect gift for: That special caregiver, be he chef or masseur. Return the favor to the person who nurtures you year-round.
3. Prescription for Nutritional Healing
by Phyllis A. Balch, CNC, and James F. Balch, MD (Avery, 2000)
Genre: Health reference
Why it will change your life: This book has universal appeal. It will help you find relief for minor annoyances, such as age spots, or understand more serious issues, such as cancer and fibromyalgia. Helpful tables give precise herb and supplement doses, offering preventive ways to strive toward optimal health. A must-have reference for any home. I always await the update.
Perfect gift for: A family.
4. Soulcraft: Crossing Into the Mysteries of Nature and Psyche
by Bill Plotkin (New World Library, 2003)
Why it will change your life: By definition, “soulcraft is the skill needed in shaping the human soul toward its fulfillment in its unity with the entire universe,” says wise elder Thomas Berry in his eloquent foreword. Plotkin builds bridges between modern psychology and more ancient practices of initiation, such as vision quests, in a text full of poetry and wisdom. You’ll read about the art of being lost; befriending the dark; and withdrawing projections, which means taking full responsibility for the conditions of your life and not blaming others. This groundbreaking, visionary book is a major contribution to the emerging field of ecopsychology—the belief that the health of our minds is directly tied to our interconnectedness with the planet.
Perfect gift for: Parents trying to understand their teens, or adults trying to understand their own desire for continual growth and awakening.
5. The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times
by Pema Chödrön (Shambhala, 2002)
Why it will change your life: “Since 9/11, Chödrön’s unique way of accepting the way things are and dealing with uncertainty seem to really strike a chord in people,” says Arsen Kashkashian of the Boulder Bookstore in Colorado, explaining why Chödrön’s works have been such consistent best sellers. This book contains valuable perspectives on laziness: “There are three kinds of laziness—comfort orientation, loss of heart, and ‘couldn’t care less.’” The author shines light on cultivating a creative, joyful attitude amid the fear and uncertainty of these times.
Perfect gift for: Young people embarking on their life’s journey. It will help plant seeds in maturing minds and hearts about making kind and compassionate choices in all relationships. This would also be an inspiring gift to elders, helping them travel the later years of life with an eternally youthful perspective.
6. Clear Your Clutter With Feng Shui
by Karen Kingston (Broadway, 1999)
Why it will change your life: In this concise jewel of a book, learn how your external environment mirrors your internal landscape. This book introduces the art of feng shui, and when you’ve finished it you’ll want to stay up late and clear out those drawers and closets. Some pearls of wisdom from the book: “Having clutter can affect your body weight,” and clearing clutter “frees up the energy in your home and releases new vitality in your body.” Hmm … food for thought.
Perfect gift for: Your spouse or partner. Read it together, and learn more about this mysterious being with whom you share your space.
7. The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, with Howard C. Cutler, MD (Riverhead, 1998)
Why it will change your life: All works by the Dalai Lama are worthy of reading, but this remains his universal best seller. “Using psychology to understand Buddhism makes its concepts more familiar to the Western mind,” says bookseller Kim Nielsen of Black Oak Books in Berkeley, California. But really, this book just offers clear, simple advice about leading a more joyful life. In a world where cynicism is sometimes considered cool, the Dalai Lama reminds us that it’s easy to be negative, but happiness requires a disciplined state of mind. Some of the best advice I’ve ever encountered.
Perfect gift for: A friend in need of overcoming a painful life, a difficult loss, or a bad attitude.
8. The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment
by Eckhart Tolle (New World Library, 2004)
Why it will change your life: Reference books provide answers, while books of reverie ask deep questions, providing places for reflection. And this is surely one of the best. Tolle’s voice presents spirituality unencumbered by tradition, while at the same time honoring all traditions. This book imagines the mind as a fine tool to be picked up when you need it and returned to the shelf when the problem is solved. “Whenever an answer, a solution, or a creative idea is needed, stop thinking for a moment by focusing attention on your inner energy field,” Tolle writes. “Become aware of stillness. When you resume thinking, it will be fresh and creative.”
Perfect gift for: The corporate leader or harried mother in your life, as it encourages taking time for being.
9. The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire: Harnessing the Infinite Power of Coincidence
by Deepak Chopra, MD (Harmony, 2003)
Why it will change your life: Let’s be honest: Sometimes you do judge a book by its cover and buy for the title. This book captured my imagination and fulfilled its promise. Chopra succeeds in explaining, in simple, concise terms, how quantum science can provide answers about the nature of manifestation and how miracles occur. Studies have been conducted on how intention influences reality at the subatomic level. It’s interesting to contemplate that perhaps we only need to be aware of our internal thoughts and desires to manifest what we want in our external world.
Perfect gift for: Your dour, doubting friend. Tired of hearing his or her whining? This book is a healthy prescription and provocative gift. At the very least, it will spawn great discussions.
10. Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals
by Jamie Sams and David Carson (St. Martin’s Press, 1999)
Genre: Oracle card decks
Why it will change your life: This final title is actually a selection from the exploding field of oracle decks. What is an oracle? “To receive an oracle is to receive guidance, knowledge, or illumination from a mysterious source beyond the personal self,” writes Dianne Skafte, PhD, in When Oracles Speak (Quest, 2000). As you ask a question and pull a card, it holds up a mirror to your interior world and wisdom. Oracle decks are helpful tools for counteracting all the external media and noise in our world. They tap your own truth, not someone else’s. I have used several types of tarot, angel, and soul cards, but this particularly helpful, Native American–inspired set is one I return to frequently. Through beautifully painted images and entertaining, storytelling text, they help us understand the wisdom of animals.
Perfect gift for: The special children in your life, as well as adults. These cards teach you about yourself as much as about the animals.