Recently I read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. In it he talked about one of his early memories of another yogi who couldn’t stand working anymore, so he quit and just meditated all day long from then on.
Damn, I thought when I read that. I still love working.
I have a long way to go.
Turns out I’m not a yogi yet. And let’s face it: I probably never will be. In spite of many past efforts–most of them enjoyable, even–sitting meditation just isn’t my thing. Working is. Doing is. Moving my body, getting stuff done. I know it’s not what spiritual people are supposed to say, but … I think I was meant to be a doer.
I think it’s my calling to be non-Zen.
And when I look hard enough, I find a little bit of encouragement for this seeming flaw. In Anita Moorjani’s Dying To Be Me, she makes an impassioned plea for people to find God in doing things they love–mundane things, sensual things, unusual things. Whatever makes you happy. And in several of Eckhart Tolle’s audio recordings he discusses this idea, too, saying that it’s actually better to live life and bring stillness to the living of it rather than becoming a monk somewhere. Life gives us plenty of opportunities to grow, he says. No need to seek a special kind of pain by sitting uncomfortably on an ashram floor. Unless you really want to, that is.
Finally, in In The Presence of A Great Mystery, another audio recording of Tolle’s, he makes another interesting statement. During the question and answer session a man asked him how to not fall asleep during meditation. First, Tolle answered that this is normal, that he’s seen many a monk sleeping during their 4 a.m. meditation session. But then he adds that what’s important in forming a meditation practice isn’t how long you stay in the state of no-mind, but how often you return. In other words, it’s better to hold short meditation “sessions” all throughout your day. “Even ten seconds is enough,” Tolle says.
Ten seconds, I thought. I can do that.
And so, that is what I am doing these days, and it seems to be working really well. My technique is this: I focus on the “inner energy” of my body, as Eckhart Tolle says to do. Then I repeat a positive mantra that feels good to me. As someone who has struggled with negative thinking patterns for a long time, I believe that this act is rewiring my brain to be more positive. In any case, as I meditate I feel calmer and happier by far, and I truly look forward to doing it whenever possible.
Sitting meditation is awesome, but it’s not for everyone–not for all times and seasons of life, at least. Working meditation, moving meditation–these are what I’m enjoying most these days, and what’s helping me the most, too.
The story of my depression starts way back in time, back to some of my first childhood memories. Since then I’ve made a great deal of progress–more than I once thought possible. But that doesn’t mean I don’t still have it.
Daily, there’s a routine: Get some exercise, some alone time. Take time to read and write and be with friends. Meditate as much as possible all throughout the day, and never, ever forget to be grateful.
Sleep well, and a lot. Eat healthy. Take medication. Stay busy. Get outside if you can. Take vitamin D, a multivitamin, a cold shower. Then get some more exercise, and meditate again.
Most of the time, this works. It’s work, but it works. So I continue on, and make slow progress. But recently I discovered a technique that is speeding up my results: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
Here’s the Wikipedia definition of CBT:
• “Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a psychosocial intervention that is the most widely used evidence-based practice for treating mental disorders.”
And here are quotes from several articles about CBT:
• Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is an effective treatment for depression … Cognitive restructuring refers to the process in CBT of identifying and changing inaccurate negative thoughts that contribute to the development of depression. This is done collaboratively between the patient and therapist, often in the form of a dialogue. For instance, a college student may have failed a math quiz and responded by saying, “That just proves I’m stupid.” … The “I’m stupid” response is an example of an automatic thought … The idea in CBT is to learn to recognize those negative thoughts and find a healthier way to view the situation. http://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/cognitive-behavioral-therapy-for-depression#1
• Dozens of randomized controlled trials (RCT) and other studies support CBT’s efficacy in treating major depressive disorder (MDD). http://www.mdedge.com/currentpsychiatry/article/82695/anxiety-disorders/using-cbt-effectively-treating-depression-and
• A successful response to CBT in the acute phase may have a protective effect against depression recurrences. A 2013 meta-analysis that totaled 506 individuals with depressive disorders found a trend toward significantly lower relapse rates when CBT was discontinued after acute therapy, compared with antidepressant therapy that continued beyond the acute phase. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2933381/
• The researchers found that patients with higher levels of connectivity between four brain regions involved in mood regulation were likely to achieve remission with CBT but have a poor response to medication, whereas those with weaker connectivity were more likely to remit using medication and not respond to CBT. http://www.pharmaceutical-journal.com/news-and-analysis/research-briefing/brain-scans-could-match-patients-to-best-depression-treatment/20202624.article
Here a few particularly difficult thoughts CBT has helped me overcome. Keep in mind that these are just some of the beliefs, not all, that have altered over the past few months using these processes.
My kids require too much attention. After doing CBT, this thought became: My kids require just the right amount of attention for them. And I require a lot of attention, too! Also, much of the day I’m doing other things–cooking, cleaning, hanging out with friends–things I’d do whether or not the kid were present.
I am sick of breastfeeding. This changed to: I am not sick of breastfeeding. It’s good for the kids. It’s nice downtime for me–I often get to read at the same time. Plus, it helped me lose my extra baby weight.
I am exhausted. This thought became: I’m not exhausted. I am not depleted of energy. There is a great deal of energy in my body for everything my body needs to do. I am thankful that my body notices when it’s time to sleep, and lets me know.
It’s an interesting process, this thought-altering work. Sometimes I can feel the change in my perspective right away. Other times, though, I only notice the change later, when the situation comes up again.
Every time I do it, part of me doubts it will work. Most of the time I’m surprised.
Early last year, I took a break from self-improvement for a while. I stopped trying to meditate. I stopped exercising.
I was just sick of it all.
Wellness practices are wonderful, when they’re wonderful. Other times they just feel like one more obligation. And then I got pregnant, and was sick for three months, and my only unnecessary activity was watching TV reruns. I took care of my family. I ate and slept. But I didn’t do a whole lot else.
Needless to say, this convergence of events brought on a depression relapse. Then November came. My first trimester sickness was over, and I was ready to take up my self-improvement efforts again. So I did something I’d never done before.
I started seeing a therapist.
When I called to make the appointment, the woman asked if I was suicidal. At first I didn’t answer; I just started crying. “No,” I told her. “I don’t want to kill myself. I just don’t really want to live.”
Apparently, that’s what three months without exercise or prayer will do to me.
My first appointment was in December, and I left it feeling quite hopeful. Julie told me that depression may be a temperament, a chemical imbalance, something that’s considered permanent. But many therapists believe that it’s not that simple, that there are other factors, too.
“So long-term relief is possible?” I asked. “Is that what you’re telling me?”
“It is possible,” she said. “A better question, though, is: Is it possible for you?”
She couldn’t tell me for sure if she’d be able to help me feel significantly better for a significant amount of time. “What I can say is that the things we’ll talk about have helped a huge number of other people in your place.”
“So what’s the plan?” I asked. “In a nutshell, what’s the strategy? Do you have some techniques in mind?” Partly, I was curious. Partly, I needed hope. And partly, I was doing a mental calculation, a cost-benefit analysis. With two kids at home, even insurance-covered therapy is a luxury.
Julie laid it out: We’d delve deep into my emotions. We’d analyze incidents that brought up feelings I’d rather not have. In doing so, I’d learn how to face them rather than stuffing them down. I’d also learn to be vulnerable.
“Studies consistently show that the happiest people are those that don’t push down their emotions,” she told me. “Letting yourself feel is the first step.”
And immediately upon hearing this, I knew she was right.
Here’s the thing: Her plan wasn’t anything I hadn’t heard before. Nothing new or revolutionary. But for some reason, until that day, I’d never followed the advice. It wasn’t so much that I was afraid to feel bad. I just didn’t think it’d work. In the past, every time I’d decided to look at my pain, it just seemed to grow bigger.
So, I ignored them—at least as much as I possibly could. And then I tried to fix them, find a solution. But feelings, said Julie, don’t need to be fixed. They just needed to be felt.
A bell rang. A Buddhist bell. An Eckhart Tolle/New Age spirituality bell. All that “just notice the thoughts–don’t judge them” stuff kicked in, and I thought, Maybe the Universe is telling me something. So, soon after reading the books by Brene Brown that Julie recommended, I decided to delve into spiritual books again. I bought Matt Kahn’s Whatever Arises, Love That. And I read Pema Chodron for the first time. These books were all about accepting where you’re at–even when you’re in a bad-feeling place.
I was ready to be well again.
Over the next few months, I resumed my meditation practice, along with my exercise routine. I went to therapy a few more times, too, and that helped more than I thought it would. I can’t say for sure which of these activities was the most significant part of my recovery, though I suspect it was the walking. But the spiritual practice I started with during that sensitive time helped a lot, too, and I still do it now sometimes.
I called it my “I hate this” meditation, and I came up with it one day at the gym.
I’d come there to exercise, of course, as well as do some writing, but I was feeling exhausted and just … bad. So instead of doing either, I sat on a comfortable chair and decided to rest for a moment.
I know what I’ll do, I thought after criss-crossing my legs and taking a few deep breaths. I’ll practice this vulnerability thing. I will think about my emotions. Feel them fully. Stop fighting my negative inner dialogue, and judging it.
I will let my bad feelings run free.
And so, that’s what I did. And not half-heartedly. If I was gonna do this, I was gonna do it right. I started a mental checklist of everything—every little thing—that I was hating in that moment. Anything that came up, I put it on the list.
The list got very long, very quickly.
I hated the gym. I hated cleaning the bathroom. I hated getting my kids ready in the morning. I hated the weather, and the way my pregnant belly felt.
I even hated my own pants.
Then something happened. Something I didn’t expect. The depression began to lift. The thoughts lost a bit of their power, their ability to produce fear. You might even say that by letting them run free, they ran away.
After all, I was facing them, and they weren’t that bad. They were just thoughts, you know? Most of them were unreasonable, many untrue. Some of them were even sort of silly. Suddenly I understood what some people call “the space between”–there was space between myself and my thoughts, like a cushion.
Half an hour into this negativity meditation, I moved past the initial lift and into an actual high. Or, not a high exactly—the depression was still there. But alongside it, coexisting with it, was some peace.
For the next two months, I continued my “I hate this” meditation until I didn’t seem to need it anymore. Soon after that, I discovered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and that took me another step forward–but that’s another story.
Let’s face it. Alternative spirituality books are written for one reason and one reason only: to make us feel good. It’s not about self-improvement. It’s not about making the world a better place. We just want to crack the code for inner peace.
Fortunately for us, lots of them deliver. Not always as completely as promised, but let’s not be too picky. Most of us have a healthy number of issues to figure out. It’s a bit much for any one teacher to deal with.
Which is why many of us spiritual types read every good book on the subject we can find. Some give us practical techniques. Some shake up our entire perspective. Others simply offer a bit of hope.
And still others do none of the above.
In the following pieces, I offer my Inner Peace Greatest Hits–the spiritual-but-not-religious books that over the years have helped me become a happier, more fulfilled person. Each top-level entry links to a full article on the book that includes a personal anecdote and notes on the book.
Best Alternative Spirituality Books is an ongoing project. Subscribe on the right for updates.
There’s a fun spirituality book called Zero Limits by one of the speakers featured in the movie The Secret. It’s by law of attraction writer (and super nice guy–he once called my friend to tell her he liked her book) Joe Vitale. Maybe you’ve heard of it.
The book is autobiographical–more a memoir than a traditional self-help. I love a good memoir, and it’s an entertaining read. But even better, it’s practical; it gives an in-depth explanation of a New Age/New Thought-type process for altering your state of mind and your beliefs (and maybe your reality, too). I’ll get into that in a second, but first, a brief assessment for those of you who already know the book.
Does this spiritual practice work against depression?
Yes. As a technique to deal with depression, Zero Limits can be awesome. I’ve tried it with some decent results. But be warned: the process is very similar to just saying mantras, and personally I’m not convinced these mantras are particularly special.
Have you tried it? For how long?
Yes. Not for long, though. Just a few days.
What were your results?
The first time I read Zero Limits, I was super excited. I wrote about this already, in You’re Getting Closer. That first night, I said the phrase over and over, and as I did so, my mood lifted and my head cleared. I entered into the state of meditation and stayed there.
The next day, however, the effect lessened considerably, even though I continued the practice. I decided that my belief in the technique, rather than the technique itself, had been responsible for my results. Since then, I’ve used the method just a few times, and never with the same commitment.
Personally–and this is just my opinion–I’d be more inclined to use the Zero Limits method on a specific situation or physical need, rather than as a way to heal depression. When I repeat a mantra in order to break out of a bad mood, I often end up more frustrated than when I started.
Is this spiritual practice enjoyable, though? Is it easy?
Yes and yes.
How does it work? What do you do, exactly?
Though there are other aspects to the technique, the main activity is repeating four lovely statements as often as possible–continuously?–throughout the day. They are:
Please forgive me.
I love you.
I won’t go into the philosophy behind the choice of statements here; for that, you can read the book. (And I recommend that you do.) The basic idea is that the statements have a cleansing power and can help you resolve any undesirable situation–like depression. By using them and visualizing a cleansing action (such as an eraser erasing a chalkboard), you rid the program from your mind that created it or brought it into your experience.
What’s the up-side?
Like I said, it is enjoyable. And it’s easy. And if you stick with it, you’ll likely see results. I happen to prefer other practices, that’s all.
What’s the down-side?
The book claims that the method is a version of an old Hawaiian healing tradition called Ho’pononpono. However, it’s significantly different from that tradition–a spinoff created by a kahuna named Morna. I’m sure Morna is or was inspired and wonderful. But I would’ve preferred she give her method a different name from the original.
The legend of the book and part of what makes it so popular is that Hew Len, the co-author of the book and of the method, emptied a mental ward of patients by using this method–nothing else.
What’s the bottom line here?
My super scientific, soon-to-be-patented depression effectiveness rating for the Zero Limits method: 5 on a scale of 1-10.
Where can I find out more?
You can read my book summaries and takeaways here:
So, I have a confession to make: I’ve always hated the idea of mindfulness. Here I am, all spiritual and New Agey and stuff, and I’ve never even initiated a conversation about it. Ridiculous, right? Here’s my excuse.
Until very recently, I knew nothing about this spiritual practice. It was just a vague term, and not an especially pleasing one at that. Whereas for some, the idea of mindfulness inspires a sort of beatific glow, for me, it was just another entry on the never-ending to do list of life. Just learning more about it seemed exhausting. Then I actually did learn more–and abruptly changed my perspective.
Right now, as research for this site, I’m reading Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zin for the first time. Now a modern classic, this gives one of the more detailed, systematic (even medical) approaches to mindfulness meditation. It’s based on the successful hospital classes led by Kabat-Zin many years ago, with more recent additions in the revised version I’m reading. I’m also reading several books by Thich Nhat Hanh right now, and listening to an Eckhart Tolle audiobook. I didn’t think of Tolle as a mindfulness meditation teacher, but I’m seeing now that he is (though he might not appreciate the label).
Previously, I viewed mindfulness as a sort of bland, unoriginal approach to spirituality. I mean, it’s just so popular, right? Even non-spiritual people are doing it. After doing the above reading, though, I changed my mind.
Mindfulness, it turns out, isn’t what I thought it was.
I thought mindfulness was: Enjoying life.
Mindfulness is: Being aware of and accepting whatever thoughts come, whether or not they’re thoughts of enjoyment and appreciation.
I thought mindfulness was: Thinking pleasant thoughts about the ordinary things you see around you as you go throughout your day.
Mindfulness is: Feeling your “inner body,” as Tolle calls it–bringing your attention to the energy within you throughout the day.
I thought mindfulness was: Eating more slowly. Listening more carefully.
Mindfulness is: Being who you are. Doing what comes naturally to you when you’re acting from your highest self.
I thought mindfulness was: Not future-thinking. Not past-thinking.
Mindfulness is: Using your mind in the ways that it serves you. That includes some future- and past-thinking.
I thought mindfulness was: Being in a state of deep acceptance of what is.
Mindfulness is: Being in the state of meditation. Even when you’re not totally able to accept what is.
I thought mindfulness was: A politically correct alternative to more advanced ways of meditating.
Mindfulness is: As advanced as I ever need to be.
In other words: Before, mindfulness seemed to me both overly simplistic as well as impossible to achieve. Now, it seems to be exactly what I already do every day: meditating, appreciating, loving. Rinse, repeat.
I still don’t love the word mindfulness for some reason. At this point, the
guilt-producing mental associations still sully it. But I do like mindfulness itself.
Here, a self-interview about using this practice for depression.
Does this spiritual practice work against depression?
Yes. For sure. Probably for everyone.
Have you tried it? For how long?
Possibly the main takeaway I got from my recent reading is that I’ve actually been practicing mindfulness meditation for at least four years now. I don’t do many long sitting meditations these days, but my main spiritual practice is to enter into a state of meditation–just a behind-the-scenes sort of sensing of the Divine–in the morning and to hold that place throughout the day. I certainly don’t always succeed in this (read You’re Getting Closer to see what I mean). But when I fail, I return. It’s my most consistent spiritual habit, and as it turns out, it’s nothing special–just what everyone is talking about: mindfulness.
What were your results when using mindfulness for depression?
At times, total transformation of my mood, immediately. Other times, frustration due to just not feeling it.
Is it easy?
For me, yes and no. It does take work, especially for the first several years of practice. It’s a tough habit to create and keep.
How long does the effect last? Does it keep working or does the effect taper off after a few weeks or months?
The mood effect does not taper off at all for me if I practice consistently throughout the day, week or month. And after a break–even a long one–I can pick up right where I left off.
How does it work? What do you do, exactly?
The answer to this question is different for everyone; there are so very many ways to be mindful.
For some, mindfulness is simply noticing what is and thinking thoughts of appreciation. For others, it is noticing unhelpful thoughts and letting them pass, turning their attention to their present surroundings instead. Right now, for me, my main mindfulness practice is to say a mantra many times throughout the day, as follows: I am sensing my inner body. I’m doing what feels deeply right. This reminds me to come back to myself, then check in with my intuition when making any kind of decision. It works wonderfully for me.
I also say, Thank you, God, and There is time for that, too. (This last because of my Type A accomplishment obsession.) And since I’m not so great at just thinking about trees or children’s smiles or whatever, I think thoughts of appreciation about these things. In other words, instead of saying to myself, Here are the trees. They are green and beautiful, I might say something like, I so appreciate these trees. I am so lucky to live here.
Does that make sense? For me, this subtle difference is huge.
Is this practice scientifically backed?
Yes. There are many books on the benefits of meditation in general, but mindfulness meditation is particularly well-researched. It is used outside spiritual circles–in hospitals, therapy practices and much more.
What’s the downside?
None that I can think of, except that it may take years and years of practice for it to feel natural and easy. At least, it did for me. And I definitely still struggle.
As I’ve mentioned before, online lists of spirituality ebooks are often pretty hard to navigate successfully. It’s a hunt-and-peck operation; the few great books that are free are often hidden under figurative mounds of overly difficult or overly simplistic material. For that reason, I created a list called Best Free Spiritual Ebooks. That said, there are likely quite a few more that I could add to this list, if I took the time to look through what’s available.
If you feel inclined to take on the project, here are a few places to start.
100 Free Alternative Spirituality Ebooks Websites:
Thanks to a hunch and a great title, I purchased Sex, Drugs and Meditation on Amazon–and liked it even more than I expected I would. So I wrote the author, Mary-Lou Stephens, to ask if I could interview her for this site and for an upcoming book of mine. She kindly agreed. (And she was even willing to challenge my beliefs below, which I loved!)
Mollie: Right now I’m working on a book about examining and questioning deeply-held beliefs. The top spiritual beliefs I’ve found within myself so far, which are explained further in the book, are: spirituality is good; life is a game; there are no rules; people are holy; absolutes are fine, but certainty is not; happiness is the truth; God is simply reality–nothing more; and acceptance is “where it’s at.” What do you think? Agree or no?
1. Spirituality is good.
To quote Shakespeare, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” I don’t think spiritual people are better than non-spiritual people or vice versa. Many people live good, happy and useful lives without any sense of spirituality.
2. Life is a game.
Life is what it is. It’s what we make of it. We get to chose what it is through how we think about it. The word “game” to me is too loaded with meaning. It’s possible to cheat when playing a game, and there are winners and losers. Also, to me, a game is too impersonal, too superficial. Life is an ever-unfolding wonder. Sometimes games are involved. I love playing Scrabble, but life as a game? No, that doesn’t resonate for me.
3. There are no rules.
I believe in boundaries, good healthy demarcations, but are these rules? No. I believe in working out what makes life better for me and those around me and living within that paradigm. As I mentioned before, when I was growing up in a Christian household I thought I had to obey all the rules to be worthy of love, and there were a lot of rules. I didn’t feel loved, no matter what I did. In 12-step programs I discovered that working the steps made my life a whole lot better so I was happy to keep working them again and again. Working those steps made my life work. With meditation I have found that life flows a lot easier. I don’t work the steps anymore. I have no schedule of spirituality I have to adhere to. I just live.
4. People are holy.
I do believe that God is in everyone. We are all part of the One. But once again, “holy” is a loaded word so I’m going to disagree with this one, too!
5. Absolutes are fine. Certainty is not.
There are no certainties, no absolutes. Everything changes, all the time. It’s the nature of the Universe.
6. We have power.
Yes, we have power. We have the power of choice. We can choose what we say, how we respond, how we spend our time, how we treat others. This is power.
7. Happiness is the truth.
Totally disagree with this one. Happiness is a fleeting feeling. The truth is everlasting.
8. God is reality—nothing more.
God is a paradox, everywhere and nowhere, everything and nothing, immeasurable and infinite. God may not even exist. But there is a strong sense within me that s/he does.
9. Acceptance. It’s where it’s at.
Yep! I love acceptance. it gives me so much more space and time to do the things I love to do. I’ve stopped fighting. It was all useless anyway. In the end, even the victories I had mean nothing. Acceptance brings me joy.
It’s not really New Age. (No one seems to love that term, do they?) It’s not really New Thought, since that’s more specific. And it sure as heck isn’t Buddhist, Christian, Jewish or any other more easily defined belief system.
It’s the brand of spirituality we sometimes call “spiritual but not religious.” Even though we know that it’s a terrible term. I mean, it’s a good, accurate way to describe my philosophy and that of a rapidly growing segment of society. But man, is it a mouthful. Maybe we need to use the acronym instead: SBNR. Okay, maybe we don’t.
Let’s do “alternative spirituality” instead.
Here, then, is my Other Best Alternative Spirituality Books list. It follows on the heels of a handful of other, more specific Best Alternative Spirituality Book lists. This is the stuff that is not easily labeled–the stuff that bookstores don’t quite know what to do with, the stuff they might stick in the Spiritual/Inspirational or the New Age category and call it good. Of course, there are plenty more books on my lists that could fit into this category, too. However, if there’s a more specific list on my site that fits it better, I chose to just keep it there.
I chose the books in the first section because they inspired me deeply, changed me for the better and helped me find greater inner peace. The second section features many of the other general inspirational books I’ve come across but may not have read yet.
By the way, don’t let the title fool you: This is one of my favorite book categories. These books are a bit different, but in a good way.
Other Best Alternative Spirituality Books is an ongoing project. Check back here or subscribe on the right for updates.
The Work of Byron Katie: An Introduction, Byron Katie Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life, Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell Who Would You Be Without Your Story?: Dialogues with Byron Katie, Byron Katie I Need Your Love – Is That True?: How to Stop Seeking Love, Approval, and Appreciation and Start Finding Them, Byron Katie and Michael Katz A Thousand Names for Joy: Living in Harmony with the Way Things Are, Byron Katie and Stephen Mitchell A Mind at Home With Itself: How Asking Four Questions Can Free Your Mind, Open Your Heart and Turn Your World Around, Byron Katie What I Know for Sure, Oprah Winfrey The Shack, William Young Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis Heretics, G.K. Chesterton
Other Recommended Alternative Spirituality Books:
Various Audio and Video Recordings, Byron Katie and Byron Katie International
Question Your Thinking, Change The World: Quotations from Byron Katie, Byron Katie A Friendly Universe: Sayings to Inspire and Challenge You, Byron Katie Loving What Is: 52 Meditations on Reality (Card Deck), Byron Katie Byron Katie’s “Katieisms”: Inner Wisdom Cards (Card Deck), Byron Katie and Hans Wilhelm
The Dancing Wu Li Masters: An Overview of the New Physics, Gary Zukav The Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav Thoughts from the Seat of the Soul, Gary Zukav The Heart of the Soul: Emotional Awareness, Gary Zukav and Linda Francis Thoughts from the Heart of the Soul: Meditations for Emotional Awareness, Gary Zukav and Linda Francis The Mind of the Soul: Responsible Choice, Gary Zukav and Linda Francis Self-Empowerment Journal: A Companion to The Mind of the Soul: Responsible Choice, Gary Zukav and Linda Francis Spiritual Partnership, Gary Zukav Soul to Soul, Gary Zukav Soul Stories, Gary Zukav
Don Miguel Ruiz:
The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz The Fifth Agreement: A Practical Guide to Self-Mastery (Toltec Wisdom), Don Miguel Ruiz and Don Jose Ruiz The Mastery of Love: A Practical Guide to the Art of Relationship, Don Miguel Ruiz The Four Agreements Companion Book: Using The Four Agreements to Master the Dream of Your Life, Don Miguel Ruiz Prayers: A Communion with Our Creator, Don Miguel Ruiz Wisdom from the Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz Wisdom from the Mastery of Love, Don Miguel Ruiz The Voice of Knowledge: A Practical Guide To Inner Peace, Don Miguel Ruiz The Toltec Art of Life and Death, Don Miguel Ruiz
A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of a “Course in Miracles,” Marianne Williamson
The Law of Divine Compensation: On Work, Money, and Miracles, Marianne Williamson
Enchanted Love: The Mystical Power of Intimate Relationships, Marianne Williamson Imagine What America Could Be in the 21st Century: Visions of a Better Future from Leading American Thinkers, Marianne Williamson Healing the Soul of America: Reclaiming Our Voices as Spiritual Citizens, Marianne Williamson A Woman’s Worth, Marianne Williamson Everyday Grace: Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness, And Making Miracles, Marianne Williamson Illuminata: A Return to Prayer, Marianne Williamson The Gift of Change, Marianne Williamson
David R. Hawkins:
Power Versus Force: The Hidden Determinants of Human Behavior, David Hawkins
Letting Go: The Pathway of Surrender, David R. Hawkins Transcending the Levels of Consciousness: The Stairway to Enlightenment, David R. Hawkins Transcending the Levels of Consciousness: Live Your Life Like a Prayer, David R. Hawkins Success Is for You: Using Heart-Centered Power Principles for Lasting Abundance and Fulfillment, David R. Hawkins The Eye of the I: From Which Nothing Is Hidden, David R. Hawkins Truth vs Falsehood:How to Tell the Difference, David R. Hawkins I: Reality and Subjectivity, David R. Hawkins Dissolving the Ego, Realizing the Self: Contemplations from the Teachings of David R. Hawkins, David R. Hawkins and Scott Jeffrey Discovery of the Presence of God: Devotional NonDuality, David R. Hawkins Reality, Spirituality and Modern Man, David R. Hawkins Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life: Setting Boundaries on Unhealthy Relationships, David R. Hawkins Along the Path to Enlightenment: 365 Daily Reflections from David R. Hawkins, David R. Hawkins and Scott Jeffrey The Ultimate David Hawkins Library, David R. Hawkins When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You: Finding God’s Patterns for Healthy Relationships, David R. Hawkins Breaking Everyday Addictions: Finding Freedom from the Things That Trip Us Up, David R. Hawkins Never Fight Again . . . Guaranteed!: Groundbreaking Practices for a Win-Win Marriage, David R. Hawkins The Power of Emotional Decision Making: Using Your God-Given Emotions for Positive Change, David R. Hawkins Stumbling Toward Obedience: Learning from Jonah’s Failure to Love God and the People He Came to Save, David R. Hawkins The Clear Pathway to Enlightenment-Four CD Set, David R. Hawkins Project Y: The Los Alamos Story. Part I: Toward Trinity. Part II: Beyond Trinity, David R. Hawkins and Edith C. Truslow In the World, but Not of It: Living Spiritually in the Modern World, David R. Hawkins Healing and Recovery, David R. Hawkins The Discovery: Revealing the Presence of God in your Life, David R. Hawkins Normal People Do the Craziest Things, David R. Hawkins
Remembering Wholeness: A Personal Handbook for Thriving in the 21st Century, Carol Tuttle It’s Just My Nature!, Carol Tuttle The Path to Wholeness: A Guide to Spiritual Healing & Empowerment for Survivors of Child Sexual & Spiritual Abuse, Carol Tuttle
The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho Burn, Baby, Burn, Evan Griffith Indigo Adults: Understanding Who You Are and What You Can Become, Kabir Jaffe and Ritama Davidson Personal Development for Smart People, Steve Pavlina Human Design: Discover the Person You Were Born to Be, Chetan Parkyn and Steve Dennis Understanding Human Design: The New Science of Astrology: Discover Who You Really Are, Karen Curry Human Design: The Definitive Book of Human Design, The Science of Differentiation, Ra Uru Hu and Lynda Bunnell The Open Secret, Tony Parsons Butterflies Are Free to Fly, Stephen Davis The Book on the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, Alan Watts Keys to the Ultimate Freedom, Lester Levinson Past the Gate, Esther Teule God Goes to Work, Tom Zender The Outlook Beautiful, Lilian Whiting Kitchen Table Wisdom, Rachel Naomi Remen The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth, Scott Peck Messages from Water and the Universe, Masaru Emoto Add More Ing to Your Life: A Hip Guide to Happiness, Gabrielle Bernstein
In Search of the Miraculous, P. D. Ouspensky Grace, Gaia, and the End of Days: An Alternative Way for the Advanced Soul, Stuart Wilde Live Your Bliss, Terry Cole-Whittaker What You Think of Me is None of My Business, Terry Cole-Whittaker The Future of Love, Daphne Rose Kingma Mystery Teachings From the Living Earth: An Introduction to Spiritual Ecology, John Mihael Greer The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, Charles Eisenstein Living in the Heart: How to Enter into the Sacred Space within the Heart, Drunvalo Melchizedek Adventures of the Soul: Journeys Through the Physical and Spiritual Dimensions, James Van Praagh The Sculptor in the Sky, Teal Scott The Passion Test: The Effortless Path to Discovering Your Life Purpose, Janet Attwood and Chris Attwood The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling, James Hillman Living A Course in Miracles: An Essential Guide to the Classic Text, Jon Mundy PhD Kinship with All Life, J. Allen Boone The Reconnection: Heal Others, Heal Yourself, Eric Pearl The Seeker’s Guide, Elizabeth Lesser The Untethered Soul, Michael A. Singer Tao Te Ching, Stephen Mitchell A Monk in the World: Cultivating a Spiritual Life, Wayne Teasdale
In the very famous book by Robert Cialdini called Influence, he tells a story that has been co-opted many times since, and now, I think I’ll do it again.
Beginning in the year 1961, Yale University conducted a set of frightening psychological experiments on a mix of average people. Bear with me a few moments—this is a little complicated. (But worth it.)
In each iteration of this study, three roles were played: the subject, the button pusher, and the director. The idea was simple: the button pusher would attempt to teach the subject, who was sitting in a different room, a set of word pairs. Then the button pusher would test the subject’s learning ability. When the subject responded incorrectly, the director (wearing a white lab coat) would tell the button pusher (the actual subject of the experiment) to deliver electric shocks of increasing intensity to the subject by—you guessed it—pressing a button.
Of course, the set up was a bit of a sham. No actual electrical current was delivered, but the subject made a convincing show of suffering, anyway.
The results of the study and subsequent studies shocked the researchers and the public alike: 65 percent of the button pushers complied with the researcher’s demands and pushed the torture button until the highest level of pain (an excruciating 450 volts) was delivered repeatedly—despite the fierce cries and protests of the subjects.
When the results of this study were announced to the public, they apparently caused quite a media frenzy. Respected analysts and psychologists made pessimistic observations about the evil inherent in human nature and society. What the journalists apparently did not reveal, however, was this:
The button pushers were in absolute anguish a great deal of the time.
They paced. They protested. They cried—even grown men cried. They begged not to be required to go on.
They didn’t want to do it at all.
In Influence and other analyses of this fascinating study, a clear conclusion is drawn: People in general put a great undue trust in authority. We listen to our leaders—or the people we perceive to be our leaders—and do almost anything they ask, whatever the consequences may be.
And I agree with this idea. In fact, I could not possibly agree more. However, there is a second conclusion to be made, and personally, I think it’s even more important than the first: People are almost totally unaware that the source of their greatest anguish is not other people.
It is themselves.
At any point in time during this experiment, any of the button pushers could have ended the torture of both the subject and themselves by doing one simple thing.
They could’ve stopped pushing the button.
Here’s the thing: We are powerful. Our minds–our beliefs–are the source of our greatest pain, as well as our only true joy. And yet, as many times as we New Agey-types say this, repeat this, remind ourselves of this, we often seem to forget it.
When I first came across Byron Katie’s website, there was a prominently displayed quote that went something like this: “The Work has one purpose: To end suffering.”
And I thought, Yeah, right, you guys. Everything I need to end suffering is right here, on this website.
A reasonable reaction, maybe. But that was long before I ever put The Work to the test.
What is The Work?
For those of you who are not familiar with The Work, here is a brief description from thework.com: “The Work is a simple yet powerful process of inquiry that teaches you to identify and question the thoughts that cause all the suffering in the world. It’s a way to understand what’s hurting you, and to address the cause of your problems with clarity. In its most basic form, The Work consists of four questions and the turnarounds.”
The questions are:
Is it true? (Yes or no. If no, move to 3.)
Can you absolutely know that it’s true? (Yes or no.)
How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
Who would you be without the thought?
Pretty simple, right? And yet, The Work is one of the most powerful spiritual techniques I’ve ever tried. It combines well-known cognitive psychology principles (CBT is similar, and similarly amazing), neuroscience (brain rewiring theory, and all that), and–you guessed it–spirituality to address anything and everything that ails you.
And it delivers.
Can you be more specific?
Here are some of the negative thoughts I’ve freed (or partially freed) myself from through this method, just during the first two months of practicing it:
I’m not thin enough.
I’m not accomplishing enough.
I’m annoyed by [insert person’s name].
I’m angry at [insert person’s name].
I want to work more.
I don’t want to breastfeed anymore.
Another thought that I’m not totally rid of yet, but that I’ve already made inroads against: “I am depressed.”
Really? That doesn’t seem possible.
What do you mean, you’ve freed yourself from these thoughts?
I mean that when they come, they don’t feel as strong to me anymore. They are there, then I recall The Work that I did on the thought and how I turned it around, and it sort of makes its way through me to somewhere else. They’re not quite real anymore. I don’t take them so seriously.
And for depression, a condition that may be physically-based? Does it work for this, too?
Absolutely. I can honestly say that before The Work and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is very similar but not quite as powerful as The Work, I was never entirely convinced I could one day be completely free from depression. Now, I am.
But it will take time. This is not an overnight miracle cure. It takes, as the name suggests, work. Depression has made such deep inroads–superhighways, really–in my mind. All that needs to be slowly undone.
If it’s this amazing, why doesn’t everyone know about it?
People find The Work when the time is right. Also, Byron Katie’s ideas are pretty darn controversial. In her world, the problem is never the other person; it’s always you. “No exceptions.” Change your perspective, and you won’t suffer anymore, she says–no matter what anyone else does to you. A lot of people are stuck in victimhood.
Anything else we should know?
I cannot do The Work justice in this blog post. Rather than attempt the impossible, then, I direct you to one of my favorite Byron Katie YouTube videos ever (and that’s saying a lot, since I’ve been binge-watching them every chance I get). In it, Katie helps a distraught woman plagued with guilt over a relationship mistake see the truth of the situation.
Me: Sometimes, we’re happy just because we’re happy. Other times, it takes a lot of work. What do you tell people who, unlike you, struggle with negativity and other emotional stuff on a daily basis?
Leta: My advice is to love what is. Just that.
Me: How? Can you give me a much clearer, more practical idea of what’s going on in your head as you are loving and appreciating throughout your day? Maybe a small example of a few moments inside your head?
Leta: Often, my head is just saying, “I love God.” I have thoughts. I’m human, after all. But my head is empty probably a lot more than most humans.
I will meet people I don’t like. I will encounter things and situations I don’t like. They may even be grotesque to my sensibilities. However, I am challenged to love the divine within all things. I am challenged to be One with all things. I am challenged to broaden my perspective so that I find the divine innocence at the heart of everything. I am challenged to love and accept everyone, even people I don’t like. If I meet someone I don’t like, I ask myself if this is a situation I can change. Am I willing to put forth the effort to like them (which would mean changing everything about myself, going into another personality and being someone I am not)? The answer is no. However, I can see the divine innocence in them. I can understand them and love them even though I may not like them. None of it scares me. I love it all. I have a relationship with myself that allows for constant self-inquiry leading to understanding and love that takes me beyond the disconnected to the connected. I have so much fun.
If you don’t love a great dear neath experience book, check your pulse; you’re probably already dead. (Miss you.) That said, books in this sub-genre are not all created equal. Some are super inspiring, while others just aren’t quite to my taste. A lot of them come from a religious perspective I don’t agree with and others are, well, a bit corny. That said, the stories themselves (sans lesson plan) can be interesting regardless.
I chose the books in the first list below because I’ve read and enjoyed them and because they offer good, practical life advice. If you want to get more immersed the subject, though, try the books in the “Other Recommended Near Death Experience Books” section. I chose them because they’re either well-known, seemingly well-researched, or just recommended on some website somewhere. (High standards, I know.)
My favorite book from this list: Dying To Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing by Anita-Moorjani. That book is definitely my friend.
Best Near Death Experience Books is part of a larger project, a curriculum I’m writing called Books I Want My Kids to Read Someday. Like this list, it’s an ongoing, possibly unending, project. Check back here or subscribe on the right for updates.
Dying To Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing, Anita-Moorjani Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon’s Journey into the Afterlife, Eben Alexander Life After Life: The Bestselling Original Investigation That Revealed “Near-Death Experiences”, Raymond Moody Science and the Near-Death Experience: How Consciousness Survives Death, Chris Carter Visions, Trips, and Crowded Rooms: Who and What You See Before You Die, David Kessler
Other Recommended Near Death Experience Books:
Application of Impossible Things: A Near Death Experience in Iraq, Natalie Sudman Mindsight: Near-Death and Out-of-Body Experiences in the Blind, Kenneth Ring Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, and the Exhilarating Future That Awaits You, John Burke and Don Piper Beyond Sight: The True Story of a Near-Death Experience, Marion Rome Near Death in the ICU: Stories from Patients Near Death and Why We Should Listen to Them, Laurin Bellg MD Evidence of the Afterlife: The Science of Near-Death Experiences, Jeffrey Long and Paul Perry God and the Afterlife: The Groundbreaking New Evidence for God and Near-Death Experience, Jeffrey Long and Paul Perry My Journey to Heaven: What I Saw and How It Changed My Life, Marvin J. Besteman and Lorilee Craker Love The Person You’re With: Life-Changing Insights from the Most Compelling Near-Death Experiences Ever Recorded, David Sunfellow Dying to Wake Up: A Doctor’s Voyage into the Afterlife and the Wisdom He Brought Back, Rajiv Parti and Raymond Moody Life After Death, Powerful Evidence You Will Never Die, Stephen Hawley Martin Real Messages From Heaven: And Other True Stories of Miracles, Divine Intervention and Supernatural Occurrences, Faye Aldridge Near-Death Experiences, The Rest of the Story: What They Teach Us About Living and Dying and Our True Purpose, P. M. H. Atwater Embraced By The Light, Betty J. Eadie Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience, Pim van Lommel Near-Death Experiences Examined: Medical Findings and Testimonies from Lourdes, Patrick Theillier Awakenings from the Light: 12 Life Lessons from a Near Death Experience, Nancy Rynes Near-Death Experiences as Evidence for the Existence of God and Heaven: A Brief Introduction in Plain Language, J. Steve Miller and Jeffrey Long Near Death Experiences of Doctors and Scientists: Doctors, and Scientists Describe Their Personal Near-Death Experiences, John J. Graden Wisdom of Near-Death Experiences: How Understanding NDEs Can Help Us Live More Fully, Penny Sartori and Pim van Lommel The Night I Spoke to God: A Miraculous True Story of A Near-Death Experience, Michael L. Eads The Gifts of Near-Death Experiences: You Don’t Have to Die to Experience Your True Home, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Dennis Linn How To Stop Negative Thoughts: What My Near-Death-Experience Taught Me About Mind Loops, Neuroscience, and Happiness, Barbara Ireland Surviving Death: A Journalist Investigates Evidence for an Afterlife, Leslie Kean NDE: They Went To Heaven And Back – Stories of People That Got A Second Chance, Gerard Radcliff The Big Book of Near-Death Experiences: The Ultimate Guide to What Happens When We Die, P.M.H. Atwater
Me: What is the essence of meditation? What is it, really?
Leta: What is real about meditation other than the practice of being present in your body, experiencing an IS-ness and connecting to a bigger-than-small-you field? There is no real meditation in my experience. Anything that promotes a feeling of bigger-than-small-you experience is a meditation. It can be folding the laundry, washing the dishes, sitting down on the toilet and so much more! There is meditation in everything. It is how you approach the experience that counts. Like a plug, we can plug in anything we do in our daily lives into the socket of “bigger-than-small-me” experience. This is the key to meditation in my experience.
What could be better than a great alternative spirituality book that’s also free? Not much. Not much at all. But if you’ve ever done a Google search for “free spiritual ebook” or “free alternative spirituality ebook,” you know it’s not that easy. There are thousands and thousands of these volumes online, some from ages ago and some published just last week. Where do you start?
My advice: Start with the classics. Not just any of the classics, though; the ones that have received wide appreciation. Then take my advice (and the advice of others) on the modern stuff.
I chose these books because they inspired me deeply, changed me for the better, and helped me find greater inner peace. Let me know what else is out there that deserves to be here and I will gratefully update this list.
Best Free Alternative Spirituality Ebooks is an ongoing project. Check back here or subscribe on the right for updates.
The Work of Byron Katie: An Introduction, Byron Katie Beginning Your Love Revolution, Matt Kahn Hoist on My Own Petard: Or: How Writing 10% Happier Threw My Own Advice Right Back in My Face, Dan Harris Autobiography of A Yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda As a Man Thinketh, James Allen Secret of the Ages, Robert Collier Be Still, Emmet Fox Think and Grow Rich, Napolean Hill Science of Mind, Ernest Holmes Feeling Is The Secret, Neville Goddard The Power of Positive Thinking, Norman Vincent Peale Scientific Christian Mental Practice, Emma Curtis Hopkins The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence 100 Daily Messages Volumes One through Four, Leta Hamilton and Archangel Michael
For several months, I had a mantra. A long one, one that I made up that said everything I wanted to remember each day. Since I haven’t had a whole lot of luck with many other types of meditation (I’ve pretty much always used mantras as a focal point during sitting practice rather than focusing on the breath or just clearing my mind), I figured I might as well make it a good, complete one. Each stanza is, for me, a consolidation of a great spiritual principle that upon contemplation can allow us to feel the feeling of feeling good (my definition of the state of meditation).
Here is the mantra that I used:
Angels, guides, God and all there is,
1. Please. Please. Help. Help.
2. Notice. Notice. Accept. Accept.
3. Surrender. Surrender. Flow. Flow.
4. Love. Love. Give. Give.
5. Body. Body. Energy. Energy.
6. Thank you. Thank you. Life. Life.
I love this mantra. I love mantras in general, actually. And yet, I don’t use this one anymore. In fact, for the past year or so, I’ve used mantras only sporadically. Why is this? The reason is simple: other spiritual practices took precedent.
I just don’t have time for them all.
Here, a self-interview about using this practice for depression.
So do you recommend mantra meditation for depression, or not?
Absolutely. I have a strong feeling that I will circle back to it–maybe even to using it daily–after my Byron Katie obsession is no longer in the critical learning period.
And mantras in general? Do they help, too? Or is it best to combine them with meditation?
Mantras are just mantras. Unless they’re used in a certain way, in a meditative frame of mind, they’re just not all that effective.
I remember a time several years back when I thought I wanted to buy a particular house. So one day I said this mantra over and over for, like, a solid hour while doing yoga: “This is my house.” And I didn’t feel at peace about it at all–and I did not end up buying that house (thank God).
So what was the difference?
First, the mantra should be something that feels deeply right to you. Something that really increases your peace. And second, the mantra should be something you use as a means to an end–achieving a state of meditation–not as an end in itself.
So does that mean you shouldn’t use mantras while doing the laundry or at work?
Not at all. Sit-down meditation is awesome, but you can meditate anytime. I call this “walking meditation.”
How effective is mantra meditation for depression, really?
The thing about being depressed is that it’s really, really hard to boost yourself up out of it using the usual methods. I can remember so many times that I tried to force myself out of a bad mood using some kind of sitting or walking meditation, usually with a mantra, and just ended up more pissed off and frustrated. Maybe I’m just really bad at it (actually, I’m pretty sure this is the case). But I have a feeling I’m not the only one with this problem.
Sometimes it works really well. Other times, it’s just not enough. Personally, I’ve found that meditation is best when I’m already feeling either emotionally neutral (it then kicks me into a bit of a high) or already positive (it then kicks me into an awesome high). When I’m actually depressed, I need something … stronger.
I love buying books for myself. Like, a lot. But guess what? I love buying them for my kids even more.
Unfortunately, when it comes to the topic of alternative spirituality, children’s books are relatively rare. Here’s a list of those I’ve discovered so far. Please let me know of others you discover and fall in love with.
Best Alternative Spirituality Books for Children:
Sara, Book 1: Sara Learns the Secret About the Law of Attraction, Esther Hicks and Jerry Hicks Sara, Book 2: Solomon’s Fine Featherless Friend, Esther Hicks Sara, Book 3: A Talking Owl is Worth a Thousand Words!, Esther Hicks Sara and the Foreverness of Friends of a Feather, Esther Hicks and Jerry Hicks Om Baby, Child of the Universe, Schamet Horsfield Sitting Still Like a Frog: Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents), Eline Snel Milton’s Secret, Eckhart Tolle Emir’s Education in the Proper Use of Magical Powers, Jane Roberts New Thought Children Stories, Christopher Morley Emma & Mommy Talk to God, Marianne Williamson I Am, Wayne Dyer and Kristina Tracy Incredible You!, Wayne Dyer and Kristina Tracy It’s Not What You’ve Got!, Wayne Dyer and Kristina Tracy No Excuses!, Wayne Dyer and Kristina Tracy Unstoppable Me!, Wayne Dyer and Kristina Tracy Tiger-Tiger, Is It True?: Four Questions to Make You Smile Again, Byron Katie and Hans Wilhelm The Four Questions: For Henny Penny and Anybody with Stressful Thoughts, Byron Katie and Hans Wilhelm Santa’s God: A Children’s Fable About the Biggest Question Ever,Neale Donald Walsch All the World, Liz Garton Scanlon Oh, The Places You’ll Go!, Dr. Seuss
Is positive thinking effective for increasing wellness and inner peace? I mean, really. It’s so corny. So Pollyanna. And yet, we spiritual people swear by it. Non-spiritual people, too. We give it credit for so many of our life achievements.
I love this question. Really, really love it, partly because the answer isn’t straightforward. So the other week when I ran across an interview with Eckhart Tolle and Dr. Wayne Dyer in which it was asked, my ears perked up.
Strangely, positivity is a very polarizing subject. You have the extreme believers and the extreme haters. The believers think it’s the reason for everything good that ever happens (I’m looking at you, Rhonda Byrne). The haters view these people as not only misled, but downright ridiculous. Barbara Ehrenreich, for example, has become well known for books like Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America. Not the book idea I’d want to commit to for several years of my working life.
But there are a few less skeptical, more balanced approaches to the anti-positivity argument as well. And I was pleased that in the Dyer-Tolle interview, both shared interesting, balanced perspectives. They agreed that if a person really wants to achieve greater inner peace, positivity isn’t the goal, or even necessarily a great starting point. Instead, they say, work on being true to yourself, being honest–even if there’s some difficult emotions that come up.
Then Dyer mentioned Anita Moorjani, who wrote a book (Dying to Be Me) about her near death experience and what she learned from it. In it, she says that it’s not about positive thinking. It’s not about manufacturing good feelings where there are none. It’s not about mantras, and the law of attraction, and The Secret, and Norman Vincent Peale.
Positive thinking is a mere substitute for the real thing. Real enlightenment. Real joy. Real love.
It’ll only get you part of the way.
Pema Chodron would likely agree. Her (awesome) books are full of insights about the importance of honesty and authenticity–even suffering. She has a ton–really, just a ton–of amazing quotes on this topic. Here’s one, from When Things Fall Apart: “To stay with that shakiness—to stay with a broken heart, with a rumbling stomach, with the feeling of hopelessness and wanting to get revenge—that is the path of true awakening. Sticking with that uncertainty, getting the knack of relaxing in the midst of chaos, learning not to panic—this is the spiritual path.”
So, okay. Maybe positive thinking isn’t all it’s touted to be. But, well–what is, right? Any idea that has entered the popular consciousness with as much force and repetition (not to mention anecdotal and even scientific evidence, a la the placebo effect) suffers from oversimplification syndrome. Maybe positivity isn’t the cure-all, or even one of the truly great spiritual practices out there. That doesn’t mean I’m giving it up anytime soon.
Briefly, here’s my take: As many of you know, I’ve experienced chronic dysthemia (low-level depression) for most of my life. Spirituality and prayer have always been a source of help for me, as have many other practices. But the very first true breakthrough I ever experienced regarding my depression resulted from reading a book on changing one’s thoughts. It was called Telling Yourself the Truth: Find Your Way Out of Depression, Anxiety, Fear, Anger, and Other Common Problems by Applying the Principles of Misbelief Therapy, and I still recommend it to this day (though there are other, similar books on the subject I prefer now). The basic message: your negative thoughts are responsible for your negative feelings. To change the feeling, change the thought. Oh, and by the way, those negative thoughts aren’t true, anyway–not nearly as true as the more objective–and yes, more positive–alternative perspectives.
The message was simple, and in some ways quite obvious, and yet, as a Christian who had always relied on prayer alone for healing, it was radical to me. When I began “taking my thoughts captive,” as the Bible teaches, I was finally able to cap off some of the depression.
These days, I use positive thinking as a tool every day of my life, both in a knee-jerk sort of way and as a dedicated journaling practice. Don’t get me wrong–I’d love to be more like Eckhart Tolle, who is able to “just be.” And Moorjani, who tells us that rather than try to drum up better-feeling thoughts, we should simply live a life that celebrates who we really, authentically are–whatever that may be.
Me: People describe the feeling of meditation in different ways. For some, it’s just relaxation. For me, it’s slightly increased peace–a bit of space between myself and my neurotic mind. What does meditation feel like to you?
Leta: When I meditate, I see myself as the vast universe. I feel a hugeness from the inside out that can only be described as vast empty space. When I see a photo of the universe, of galaxies and the lights emerging from them, the colors they display, I feel that is the best description, visually speaking, of what I feel inwardly as I meditate.
I feel the whole universe is the space of my inner self.
This feeling is cherished and it is why I return to meditation again and again. Even when I have moments without meditation (without that feeling of vastness from the inside out), I remember it and return to it. Whether I am in the kitchen, car or store, I return to the vastness I feel when I am in meditation. Maybe that explains why I maintain the notion that meditation is more than just sitting with eyes closed and legs crossed. It is any time the feeling of vastness comes over me.
Me: Are you able to feel this anytime, even when you’re not alone?
Leta: It is harder to accomplish in the company of others. When I am with others, I am pulled back into the world and the illusion of separation. I am pulled into the physicality present in our form-sense orientation. I am reminded of my humanness when I am with others. This is not a bad thing in and of itself. However, I desire the balance of isolation as well to accompany it. I desire my own time without having to speak to another soul as much as I desire human interaction, love, friendship, and all the things intertwined with human-experiencing.
So I only have this to say: meditate. Breathe. Give back to society in whatever way you can. Volunteer. Think about others in everything you do. Lose yourself happily, because you are seeking nothing. Nothing means no-thing. Give yourself permission not to have goals–to have the goal of loving what is every moment.
That is the most awesome goal of all.
Vision boards, the law of attraction, bringing into your reality what you visualize/hold in your mind, etc., are part of the game of living on earth and they have their place, but I am more interested in being the galaxy and all the galaxies. I am more interested in returning to that place of great big BIG-ness that I feel when I meditate.
It must be a rush of endorphins or whatever brain chemicals rush through my skull that cause me to be so drawn to that meditative state. It is pure bliss and it comes whenever I am focused, steady and silent in my Self. It comes whenever I tell it to, but that is after years of practice.
In the world of alternative spirituality, it’s become a bit of a cliche: Everything we see, everything we experience, is merely ourselves, reflected back at us. We are here to discover who we really are, say our Buddhist teachers (like the great Pema Chodron) and our channels (like Esther Hicks, Jane Roberts and many others). This is supposed to make us feel better when things go wrong, I suppose; it’s not really happening, right?
Knowing what’s really going on at all times–with ourselves and everyone around us–is a major driving force of our actions and thoughts, he writes. There is a distinct physical and chemical pleasure response from coming up with a reason or explanation–no matter how accurate that explanation may be.
Enter all kinds of false conclusions. We even assign meaning to pure coincidence, making causal inferences from scant information.
So in a sense, believing the world is a projection of our own minds is a pretty attractive scenario. If I can change my mind, I can change my life, we conclude. Who doesn’t want that kind of power?
However, there’s a flip side to this perceived super power, a quandary to consider: What about when something goes wrong? Who do we blame when someone is truly mean, truly heinous, truly inconsiderate, truly . . . well, wrong?
Hmmmm . . . . That’s a hard one, isn’t it?
Clearly, your partner was not being nice when he told you he’d rather spend a night out with the guys than with you. Obviously, your mother should never suggest you go on a diet, and your sister is unfair to expect you to babysit her kids every week.
I mean, let’s face it: It’s one thing to believe in theory that everything that happens is a just projection of ourselves. It’s another thing entirely to act like we believe it, to truly believe that we’re the only ones responsible for our reality.
Some spiritual-but-not-religious folks have a code word for what happens when things go wrong. They call it “co-creation.” They think that even enlightened people experience bad stuff on occasion (in other words, even Esther Hicks gets sick). This is because, well, we’re not really the only ones out here on this plane of reality. And some, but not all, of the out-there stuff affects us.
For quite a while, I accepted these explanations, and in fact I still do–partly. I do believe (for now, anyway) that there really are other people out there, and that those other people are actually doing things. If reality is a projection, I think it’s a collective one.
However, there’s another layer to this idea that I only recently truly discovered. And the teacher that led me to it was Byron Katie.
Here is Katie’s take on the topic in a nutshell. She says that it’s not that so-called “bad” stuff never happens to enlightened or “advanced” people. (She probably gets her disproportionate share of hate mail, for example, due to her nobody-is-a-victim philosophy.) But when you know that a comment just isn’t true, that comment doesn’t feel truly mean to you anymore. Instead, it just feels like pain. It feels like an angry child is speaking to you, someone who doesn’t understand you–someone who’s hurt and afraid.
Recently, I started using Byron Katie’s method of questioning my negative beliefs, and it has really changed things for me. I didn’t realize how negative I was until I started writing down the automatic thoughts in my mind. From the first time I did The Work (Byron Katie’s name for her process, which is similar to cognitive behavioral therapy), I was able to step back significantly from my experiences and realize that what happens to me isn’t really what’s happening to me. What’s happening to me is what’s happening in my own mind.
Needless to say, this was an incredibly freeing revelation.
I love a heartfelt, person-to-person alternative spirituality blog. And of course, I love to hear different perspectives on spirituality–not just articles, but real opinions. These bloggers deliver on all these points. Hope you like them, too.
He’s not just spiritual. He’s creative. And his whole mission in life is to inspire you to be more creative, too–to make your dreams into goals, and goals into achievements. (Oh, and he’s a really good writer.)
What a duo these two are. And their message is really exceptional. Their blog could use a little more TLC, but I like keeping their work in my thoughts and learning about what they’re up to. And if you haven’t yet seen a Matt Kahn YouTube video, well, you may not yet truly be living. His videos are his real blog.
Spirituality, science, philosophy–always a great combination. This is a blog for people who like to keep up on the latest research in spiritual practice, particularly Buddhist practices and meditation.
Pavlina is a channel who writes about reincarnation, divination, omens and the like, bringing some common sense to her uncommon ability. Here’s a sample of her direct writing style:
“Let’s say you’re some bloke named Oliver Queen and you die, are you still Oliver Queen on the other side, like forever? Or do you become someone else? Something else?
People ask me variations of this question a lot …”
Other Top Alternative Spirituality Blogs:
Maybe these aren’t so much blogs as just websites with a bunch of good content. Either way, they merit attention, for obvious reasons. (Namely, that they have a huge following and promote authors who have changed the world.)