“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors, and the most patient of teachers.” ~ Charles Eliot

I have known this to be true through the years from when I first fell in love with reading. I remember the day I first fell in love with books. I was laying under the winter sun on a makeshift bed that was dangerously close to falling apart, and I didn't care one bit if it did! I was so absorbed in the book I was reading that wild horses couldn't drag me away from it! It were as though the author's words had held me by the hands and lifted me into a wondrous new world. Suddenly unchained from the banal beliefs I spent years building and left free to fly amongst new ideas and wiser ways of seeing the world.

And so it has been countless times. I have found solace, beauty & strength through books in my most difficult times. And I've found humility, gratitude & wisdom in my best of times through books as well.

So in this post, I will share a few books that helped me see life and the world in a new and elevated way. Books I think anyone would be the richer for reading.

I. The wisdom of no escape - Pema Chodron

Pema Chodron, in my opinion is one of the greatest teachers of our times. Her work is deeply spiritual, but also accessible and concrete enough that we can use her wisdom in both the most extraordinary and the most routine aspects of our lives. This was the first book of hers that I read. And for me it upended my belief borrowed from popular culture that we must fight against "negative emotions & thoughts".

Chodron's message in this book is that instead of turning our back on the parts of ourselves we don't like, we ought to befriend them as our teachers and guides. As she says so poetically, “Our neurosis and our wisdom are made out of the same material. If you throw out your neurosis, you also throw out your wisdom.”

What a radical idea it sounded like when I first read it, and yet now I can't imagine any other way of being.

“Meditation practice isn't about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It's about befriending who we are already.”

We live in a culture where we are constantly expected to improve things and be better all the time - not just better at what we do but also better at being who we are. While it makes sense for us to keep focusing on growing, unfortunately our inner dialogue is often harsh, pushy & rather aggressive. And I think that gets pretty tiring after a while. This book offers an entirely different perspective on these ideas and invites us to embrace our entire selves whole heartedly.

I have to say that I truly understood the meaning of compassion & acceptance, especially compassion towards oneself only after I digested the ideas in this book. It's a book that will be by my side for life so that I can keep remembering these priceless teachings. A great read to see yourself and your inner world in a refreshingly different way.

II. Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harrari

Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harrari is one of the best books I have read in my life! No exaggeration.  The  book traces back the history of our species and the many upheavals along the way, many of them being the ones we created for the planet. :)
Even though it's a history book, it reads like a gripping novel. Harrari's style is clear, factual, fast paced & no nonsense. He doesn't mince words and challenges many conventional theories about the past & the future of our species and planet. And yet, it is one of the few historical & fact based books, that has actually left me more hopeful about our world rather than cynical. It has left me feeling more convinced about the basic goodness of humans, rather than the sensationalised dark side of it we are shown everyday on media. Loads of surprises await you that might change the way you look at the world. For me it is starting to.
I am particularly impressed by Harrari's use of inclusive language so far as gender is concerned. You see a primer to that in the title itself : Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. Not "mankind", "humankind". Similarly, he flips gender pronouns several times. Where one might typically be used to reading "he" for an occupation  for example, he tends to flip it. Eg. During this time, the farmer knew she had to do what it takes. This trend is finally becoming more common amongst authors. Language is a powerful tool to influence perceptions, and I am glad top selling authors understand this and are using it right! :) Do pick yourself a copy, enjoy your read!

III. The power of now - Eckhart Tolle

Every once in a long while, a book comes along that will be your guide & companion for a lifetime, or lifetimes if you believe in that sort of thing! This book is one of them. When I first read it, I devoured it in less than a week! And I knew after the first few pages that I would keep coming back to it over and over again.  

The power of now explains the root causes of human suffering and how our mind takes control of us rather than the other way around. It contains age old ideas about understanding the dysfunctions of our minds and how we can begin to dis-identify with it. It helps to understand how different emotions arise and how we can acknowledge them & move on, instead of pushing, fighting or denying them. The book also talks about concepts that may sound esoteric at first, like consciousness & stillness, but as I stayed with the ideas and mulled over them, they began to feel much more tangible.

While "being in the present moment" has become a new age craze and it is overused to a point of becoming a cliche, the concept itself is life changing if we can take the time to practice it. It's an age old Buddhist teaching, which Eckhart Tolle brings alive with immense clarity, concreteness & depth. Even today, the nuance & accuracy with which Tolle explains the inner workings of our minds gives me goose bumps! Its as though he's peeking into my brain and narrating what it's doing in real time! It's philosophy, psychology & spirituality all mixed together into a potion of wisdom. Tolle's style is unpretentious & straightforward and yet extremely kind and full of humour.

I do think that this book isn't necessarily for everybody or at least not for every season of life. It contains ideas that have transformative power but they take time to truly understand and practise. You can watch some of Tolle's videos to get a sense of whether or not you will connect with the book's ideas.

IV. Deep Work - Cal Newport

“The ubiquity of deep work among influential individuals is important to emphasise because it stands in sharp contrast to the behaviour of most modern knowledge workers - a group that’s rapidly forgetting the value of going deep.” Excerpt from the book.

Deep Work is a book I will read again & again. I have  long been a believer in working with depth & focus while stripping away the unimportant from my days. I’m not always as successful at implementing it as I’d like, so this book felt like an apt read to pick up. Unsurprisingly, I found deep resonance with the ideas in this book. Newport offers a critical commentary on our present working culture where productivity is equated with doing a lot of things all the time.  He backs the criticism with science & research as much as he backs it up with alternative philosophies. He argues that to create truly meaningful work & impact, intense focus & depth are crucial in the way we work and the way we spend our time. He also shares how & why this skill is becoming increasingly rare today, and in the future will become far more valuable as well. He then goes on to sharing practical tips to cultivate a deep work ethic in your life.
Newport stands out in a crowd of authors who are now expected to act like celebrities on social media platforms. He is absent from social media altogether. And yet his work has been widely acclaimed. He walks his talk and has gotten the results he claims you will get too. So I’d say they are ideas worth paying attention to & experimenting with. Definitely a book worth reading and for me it's one to keep going back to!

V. Quiet:The power of introverts in a world that can't stop talking - Susan Cain

I lived my early professional years with the erroneous belief that to succeed in the corporate world, one had to display certain characteristics - network extensively, be charismatic, assert your power and make your existence known to others around you all the time. This book changed that for me, and might I say liberated me as well. Cain's writing is honest & fact based, yet deeply personal.

Cain traces how western culture transitioned from being "character focused" to personality focused, where extroverted characteristics came to be valued more than introverted ones. To the extent that introversion became seen as inferior and something to "get over" or "improve". She then goes on to draw on research from biology, psychology & evolution to establish that not only is introversion normal, but in fact many great women and men leaders across history were introverted in their temperaments. Cain's key argument is that we need to shift from a blind focus on extroversion oriented ideals and stop thinking of it as the only path to success. We need to create room in our workplaces and institutions for all types of temperaments.

While the book doesn't necessarily talk about it, I was struck also by how extroverted ideals have been "imported" to so many cultures and countries through globalisation.  Eastern philosophies and cultures, in my opinion, place immense value on introverted characteristics. But somewhere in the last 30 or so years, that seems to have shifted as well. Something I hope can be reclaimed. :)

Back to the impressionable 22 year old who thought she had to "win friends and influence people" endlessly - I wish this book had been written & I'd read it back then! It would've saved me years of feeling like I had to "fix" my introversion! Once I read it though, I owned my temperament unapologetically and became an introversion activist! :) I now introvert regularly, proudly and might I say quite productively too! If you've ever felt like you need to fix or justify your introverted temperament, or you're looking to understand introversion better, I highly recommend you read this book.

VI. Atomic Habits - James Clear  

So much has been said about this book that I hardly have anything new to add. This book is a sensation of our times and for good reason. As this article puts it, they key idea of this book is:

A tiny change in your behaviour will not transform your life overnight. But turn that behaviour into a habit that you perform every day and it absolutely can lead to big changes. Changing your life is not about making big breakthroughs or revolutionising your entire life. Rather, it’s about building a positive system of habits that, when combined, deliver remarkable results.

James Clear writes in a simple, clear, accessible way. The book is a breath of fresh air in a world obsessed with end goals. A world that seems to forget about the journey altogether. Bill Gates said “Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.”  and this book explains why. It changed the way I think about creating sustainable habits or dropping old ones. It gave me a recipe to create changes in a sensible way that didn't have me feeling stressed or guilty all the time. It's a book I will keep referring to over and over every time I want to build a new habit. And I highly recommend it for everyone - because at some point or another we have to break or build habits.

Image Credit:  Dollar Gill on Unsplash

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