Self-improvement books are an $800 million a year business.
With stress, anxiety, depression, and addiction plaguing billions, people are seeking some guidance, sound support, and a more sustainable way of living in a complex world.
On some level, we all realize that in order to change our external experience, on some level we have to grow internally. We have to evolve our awareness and understanding in order to see, perceive, and experience things differently.
That’s where my spiritual journey began over 20 years ago, with a book that got the wheels in my head turning in a new way. This particular book had such an impact on me I listened to the cassette tapes (yeah…cassette tapes), over and over again because I wanted to ensure that what I was reading and hearing really sank in.
Ever since that first book cracked the lid open on my consciousness over two decades ago, I’ve been continuously exploring and evolving. While I’ve read dozens of books over the past twenty years in an effort to nourish that initial seed that was planted, there have been a handful that have stood the test of time, drawing me back over and over again throughout the years.
These are the ones that still have a home on my bookshelf, long after the others were given away or donated.
These are the same books I refer to often when working with coaching clients and recommend to anybody embarking on a journey of spiritual awakening. And for students of my Empath Yoga Teacher Training and Life Coaching Certification programs, several of them are essential parts of the curriculum.
Yeah, they’re that good.
The list does not stop here, but I’ve narrowed it down to some of the books that had the most impact on my own life, and on the lives of my students. I’ve included affiliate links for your convenience
This one may seem surprising, at first glance, but it was the first book that shifted my perspective and helped me realize I am in the driver’s seat of my own life. This is the one I listened to, repeatedly, until I could regurgitate almost every word verbatim.
I was still working in corporate America at the time, a recent college graduate full of motivation and ambition, and this book found me just in the nick of time. Because as Stephen Covey wrote, “before you climb the ladder of success, make sure that ladder is leaning on the right wall.”
I was already feeling the sting of disillusionment. I had the corporate job. I had the college degree. I had the house and the nice car…
I did everything just as I was told to do.
And yet I still wasn’t happy.
The 7 Habits got me thinking in a completely new way, about what really mattered, and ignited a fire in me that motivated me to leave my corporate job I’ve since described as “soul-sucking”, to take a job writing and teaching personal development programs to homeless adults at a shelter for homeless families…a move that would change my life and make me who I am today.
A move that never would have happened without this book.
Thanks Stephen Covey.
This book helped mark the beginning of my journey into meditation and mindfulness.
I took it with me on my first trip overseas backpacking with friends, and used it to practice staying present, and take each moment as it came.
Rather than worrying about what might happen if we missed our train, stressing when we did, and reacting to things that would have normally sent me into a tailspin, I was able to practice being a curious witness of whatever happened.
Written by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, the short 1-2 page mini-chapters gave me just enough to chew on and immediately put into practice. It helped me evolve from reactive victim of my circumstances to conscious, unattached observer of whatever was happening in the moment, and to learn from that moment.
As he wrote in the introduction, “when it comes down to it, wherever you go, there you are. It’s your life that is unfolding.” And while the untrained mind’s nature is to move from one thought to the next like a monkey swinging from tree-limb to tree-limb, it is possible to find a place of stillness within. You do this by sitting, breathing, stepping back from your thoughts and watching them…noticing them…without getting hooked in by them.
Because, as he also wrote so eloquently,“you cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
You can find the book here.
Only half-jokingly, I often refer to myself as a “Recovering Catholic”. Nothing against Catholicism—it served its purpose and taught me some wonderful values.
But as is often the case with organized religion, it put God “out there”, and as a result I never really felt God or my connection to all-that-is until I read this book. Written in an interesting way, it planted a new, different seed for me that was a freeing breath of fresh air, and for the first time I enjoyed a relationship with God and myself on a level I never had before.
I realized it was a deep-seated sense of guilt that had me and so many others feeling pressed under the thumb of
Already working at the homeless shelter by this point, I writing and teaching programs to help my students have breakthroughs in their lives, I bought dozens of this book and not only did it become a part of my course curriculum, I gave it as gifts to my more open-minded friends and family.
This book is controversial because it goes against the grain of what so many of us were taught by organized religion, but since it helped me very early on in my journey of awakening, as well as countless others over the years, it earns its spot on this list.
You can get your hands on it here.
Channeled by Helen Schuckman, this is not a light-hearted read by any stretch. It takes years to fully study and understand the text—maybe even a lifetime. Most begin with the 365 lessons designed as a year-long daily psychological retraining to help shift our minds from a thought system based on fear, to a thought system based on love.
Much like Buddhism, ACIM is not a religion, but more of a spiritual psychology—mind training that shifts us back into alignment with love and unity with all.
Any moment in which we truly return to love, which ACIM teaches is our natural state, that is a miracle. Thus, a course in miracles.
The 365 lessons are to be taken one at a time, one a day, each lesson building upon the one before it. These lessons are augmented by a workbook for students, and a manual for teachers.
Being the psychological study that it is, ACIM study groups exist all over the world, as students work to integrate the teachings into their daily lives.
You can get the whole combined volume, the only edition that contains in one place all of the writing of Dr. Helen Schucman, here.
It was hard to pick which of Gerald’s books to mention here, because I’ve read them all and they all were equally impactful, each in their own way. But this, as well as his others, were pivotal in my own spiritual journey. Based on ACIM, it’s a simplified, easily applicable understanding of one of its core teachings—that love is what we are, and fear is what we learned. And every moment is an opportunity to let go of fear and return to an awareness of the truth of who we are.
Jampolsky, a psychologist who himself struggled with alcoholism and suicidal thoughts, it was ACIM that helped wake him up from his depressed stupor, and this book as wells his many others, like Goodbye to Guilt; Out of the Darkness and Into the Light; Forgiveness: The Greatest Healer of All; Teach Only Love; and many more have helped millions around the globe come home to themselves, and to love, in the most freeing and empowering way.
It all began when Gerald started holding attitudinal healing groups in his home for terminally ill children, offering them a safe space to share about their fears, their anger, their guilt…and giving them permission to talk about and feel whatever they needed to feel, without having to protect or fear how it would impact their parents, their doctors, or anybody else. Most of those “terminally ill” children lived on into adulthood, inspiring him to teach and write about love and forgiveness as the most potent and powerful healing force in existence.
In addition to his bestselling books, he founded the Center for Attitudinal Healing, attracting thousands from all over the globe ready to have an attitudinal healing experience of their own.
Also based on ACIM, Marianne has an uncanny ability to cut through the noise in our minds and hit the bullseye at the very center of our consciousness. Reading her words and listening to her speak, if you ever get the chance, never fails to move something deep within, and leaves you with something to marinate on for days, weeks, even years to come.
Some books simply stay with you, and for me and millions of others, including Oprah—who had Marianne on her stage more than once, that’s exactly what hers do. She’s written 15 bestsellers, all of which deserve a look.
Ironically, as I write this she’s now running for President of the United States. Personally, I think her message is one that would help to elevate the consciousness of the American people in the most beautiful way. I’ve been saying we are in the midst of a mass awakening for a while now. It will be interesting to see if we’re ready for her.
At the risk of this seeming like a shameless plug, I can’t discuss the books that most impacted me and the lives of thousands of others without mentioning the book it took me 12 years to write.
Its 12 chapters are filled with insight gleaned from the many books I reference here as well as many others, and my work with homeless adults, abused women and recovering addicts. For over a decade the book evolved right along with me as I went through two yoga teacher trainings, massage school, hypnotherapy certification and more. Through it all I took my time integrating it all into my work, and onto the page.
What was born is a 12-chapter experiential journey that is so deep and rich, one-editor suggested I separate the 12 chapters in 12 separate books. But I wanted each chapter to build upon the one before it, and yet be strong enough to stand on its own.
I’ve read enough books where the title told me everything I needed to know. Or what was spread out over 200 pages could have been summed up in twenty.
Which is why I created SUN as a life workbook that many refer back to daily, and for years to come.
Peel away layers to your deepest, truest, most authentic self, and skyrocket your self-esteem, enjoy true emotional freedom, and transform all of your relationships.
Read the reviews and learn more here.
Or get it here for the same price here, along with a free coaching session, for a limited time.
Another go-to book chock full of mind-expanding nuggets, his chapters on evolution, karma, intuition, intention, choice, addiction and relationships help build a bridge between the personality-self, the soul, and each other.
His words help you to move beyond any confusion about your own power, and tap into the light and power of your own soul, free of force or aggression.
As he says in his foreward, “We have much to do together. Let us do it in wisdom and joy and love.”
This is another one you’ll find yourself referring back to time and time again.
Yoga saved my life.” I’ve heard this countless times over my 20+ years as a teacher, and truth be told it saved mine, too.
It gets us out of our heads, our story-loops, our anxiety and stress-producing obsessive thoughts, and puts us in our bodies. It moves emotional energy.
Shortly after I graduated from my first yoga teacher training I went to massage school, really just so I could understand the body better and become a better yoga teacher. One of the things massage school helped me understand is just how much energy we store in our bodies and the havoc it wreaks unknowingly.
The chakras were and are a bridge for me between the physical world and physical body, and the non-physical mental, emotional and spiritual bodies.
These energy centers provide a map of how these different aspects of ourselves influence each other, and are energetic layers that, understood and taken together, offer a map for healing of the whole person.
Wheels of Life is required reading in the Empath Yoga Teacher Training and the Life Coach Certification programs, because nobody does a better job of breaking it all down and illustrating what the chakras are, how to read them, and how to work with them as a system to help bring us back into balance on all levels.
This is often referred to as an awakening, or the moment of enlightenment. And while it can happen in an instant, it usually happens over time, as our minds and our awareness expand as a result of a consistent, sustained spiritual practice, often involving yoga and meditation.
10. After the Ecstasy, the Laundry; By Jack Cornfield.
I often teach my students that spiritual awakening is like microwave popcorn. As you grow and expand your awareness, you start to have these little “AHA” moments. If you stay the course, it starts happening more frequently, and faster. Until eventually it seems like everything pops and your entire view of yourself and the world shifts.
The feeling is one of euphoria, bliss, or what yogis call “samadhi”. It is ecstatic union with the Divine, God, Spirit, the Universe, All-That-Is…or whatever you want to call this indescribable energy that vibrates and radiates within and through all of life.
It feels like the key has opened in the lock, and we are set free from the mind-stuff, the fears, the false beliefs that had us believing we were separate and alone.
We feel so free, so liberated, so connected and overflowing with love we can’t imagine every forgetting who and what we are again.
We see through the illusion. We know we are one with all that is. Gone is the feeling of separation, isolation, loneliness, guilt…
But if we are still here, there is still more for us to learn. And eventually life will challenge us again, conspiring in its wisdom to help us evolve to the next level of our potential. Inevitably, we will be humbled, we will experience moments of fear again. The extent to which we struggle and suffer is the extent to which we resist what is.
That’s what Jack Cornfield illustrates so beautifully in this book as he shares story after story of everyone from the average Joe to seasoned monks learn to apply their enlightenment to everyday life—complete with mortgage payments, taxes, illness…to help when we are tempted by disillusionment.
Kundalini is latent, dormant life-force energy that rests like a snake coiled at the base of the spine. As I mentioned above, that energy of awakening can stay dormant throughout one’s entire lifetime. It can awaken slowly and gently over time—rising up piercing and waking up the chakras one by one as it travels up the spine toward ecstatic union with the Divine. Usually, as a result of a consistent and sustained spiritual practice like yoga and meditation, or it can happen suddenly without notice—to one who hasn’t even given consideration to a spiritual practice.
When it happens, however it happens, it can be scary without a guide to help light the way and understand what’s happening. It can feel like you are losing your mind, which is a good thing—to have your false concepts and thoughts dissolve, if you’re ready for it. And if you feel supported.
This book is another one filled with kundalini awakenings—what it can look like, how to be prepared for it, and when it happens for you or one of your students, how not to be afraid of it.
This is by no means where the list ends, but it’s the order in which many of them appeared in my life and in my work with others, or deserving of your energy because they speak to a specific stepping stone along the path of spiritual awakening.
Others that are worth taking up their own real estate on your bookshelves are:
The Celestine Prophecy, James Redfield (written as a story of fiction)
This list, as is everything else in life, is always evolving. So don’t let yourself be limited in any way.
I’d love to know what some of your go-to, must-reads are…the ones you can’t stop talking about…the ones you buy several copies of to give away as gifts to friends and family…the ones that impacted you in a deep and lasting way.
Please share, and happy reading!