5 Life Changing Books

Finding an interesting-looking book, turning over the cover and reading the first few pages is always the hardest part. Once I’m hooked reading is my preferred method of entertainment and education.

With fiction novels theres something fundamentally satisfying about how the author guides your imagination into a detail-rich world where you feel a genuine bond with the characters and their experiences.

On the other hand there are certain non-fiction authors who bridge the gap between ignorance and awareness in such a way that you feel compelled to re-read the text again and again to fully understand the significance.

In either case, how remarkable is it to be enticed by a good book?

I’d say it’s life changing.

That Was Then, This is Now

As a kid I didn’t gravitate towards reading.

I thought, “Why would you take the time to read a book when you could just go see the movie instead?” It made sense to me even though my mom and brother were avid readers. They’d both tell me the movies got it all wrong, they left key points out, lacked character development, and the story didn’t play out like how they imagined it in their mind. This was especially true for the action-fantasy film “Eragon.”

Growing up I loved Dr. Sues and Shel Silverstein. Anyone else remember Where The Sidewalk Ends? By the time I was eight or nine I enjoyed The Magical Tree-House series and at my Elementary School’s book faire I found “Deltora Quest” which, thinking on it now, probably ignited my love for fantasy-adventure novels.

It wasn’t until my seventh grade social studies teacher Mr. Hamilton assigned our class S.E Hilton’s coming-of-age novel “That Was Then, This is Now” that I found my love for reading. I don’t recall much of the plot at the moment, but I remember I picked up the book one weekend and I couldn’t set it down until I finished. The last few pages of that book were so emotionally powerful I was shocked at how a book could evoke something within me that I only felt watching sad movies. I had never connected to fictional characters like that before.

Tuesdays with Morrie

I was first introduced to Mitch Albom’s work by a friend’s Facebook post which quoted a page from The Time Keeper.

“Try to imagine a life without timekeeping. You probably can’t. You know the month, the year, the day of the week. There is a clock on your wall or the dashboard of your car. You have a schedule, a calendar, a time for dinner or a movie. Yet all around you, timekeeping is ignored. Birds are not late. A dog does not check its watch. Deer do not fret over passing birthdays. Man alone measures time. Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.”

When I first read that quote I connected with it instantly. I felt as If time froze and in that moment I was able to look at society in a way I hadn’t before. Albom’s words were true. Everyone’s always pressed for time, running their life on a tight schedule, counting the minutes, the hours, the days, weeks, months and years. I mean, it seemed to me that timekeeping was the crux of human suffering.

Initially this observation frustrated me. I felt trapped by society, and like any naive teenager who hasn’t considered the virtues of timekeeping, I rebelled against the machine and swore I would never work the status quo 9-5 desk job and end up like all the other cogs. Above all, I was curious to know and understand more about how society functioned.

The first book I fully read by Mitch Albom was The Five People You Meet In Heaven. That book was simple yet philosophical. It lead me to pick up Tuesdays With Morrie from my local library. I enjoyed both his easy-to-read style, and also his willingness to write about intimidating topics like life, death, illness, regret, dreams and so forth.

Tuesdays With Morrie follows a young Mitch Albom reconnecting with his old sociology professor Morrie Swartz, who’s dying of ALS. The whole book is essentially heart-to-heart conversations they shared during their weekly visits. After every chapter I could look at my own life and relationships and determine what I needed to fix or improve. It was if I was there in the room with the two of them partaking in their conversations.

Mitch Albom and Morrie Swartz. Watch the Nightline interview here

The Way of Zen

Alan Watts became a huge influence on my life & philosophy. Before I read any of his books I came across a Youtube video called What Do You Desire?

What do I desire? What is that I want above all else in life? I thought it was a worthy question to pursue and as a teenager I felt pressured to want what everyone else supposedly wanted. I needed to first figure out who I was and one of the ways of doing that was to ask these deeply personal questions that Alan Watts presented in his writings and lectures.

After high school I found myself on a quest of self discovery. I was looking for transcendental answers for my lack of identity and purpose. I didn’t know who I was or what meaning my life had until I started digging into my up-bringing, my values, beliefs, experiences and interpretation of those experiences.

When I first read “The Way of Zen” I felt as if Watts expressed exactly what I felt, but couldn’t articulate. Every page seemed to turn itself and the only time I stopped was to re-read and check to make sure I understood the text’s entirety. His writings introduced me to schools of thought from eastern philosophy without it relating to religious dogma. He wanted to translate Zen Buddhism to the western world to demonstrate how much closer akin it was to psychotherapy than it was to religion.

Alan Watt’s On The Taboo of Knowing Who You Are and The Way of Zen acted as a reference point. His teachings and translations had a profound impact on my life and I recommend him to anyone seeking to learn more about themselves and practical wisdom to live a happier life.

The Doors of Perception

You may know Alduous Huxley from his scholastic book A Brave New World, but I stumbled upon him through my research on altered states of consciousness. The Doors of Perception details Huxley’s experience under the influence of mescaline where he entered “that magical place where every pebble is a precious stone.”

At the time I was interested in learning more about both the benefits and dangers of psychedelic drugs and most authors with a similar interest almost always refer back to this book. Huxley was interested in knowing from the inside what was meant by the visionary experience described innumerable times by mystics, religious groups, and artists across the board. Like Watts, Huxley articulated what I experienced but wasn’t able to clearly process in verbal/written form.

What I related to most about Huxley’s account was his emphasis on the significance of ordinary things. His attention shifted from being concerned with time and place to complete dedication to being and meaning. “Visual impressions are greatly intensified and the eye recovered some of the perceptual innocence of childhood, when the sensum was not immediately and automatically subordinated to the concept.”

Towards the end of the book, Huxley now writing about the history of visionary experience in religion and art, details how throughout time there have been users of psychedelics who experienced the complete opposite of bliss. A spiral into madness- a glimpse into the mind of a schizophrenic in full-blown psychosis. I was finding all these positive, life changing anecdotes online, but no one talked about the other side which was just as real, just as powerful, and just as transformative.

Memories, Reflections, Dreams

“Through my work with the patients I realized paranoid ideas and hallucinations contain a germ of meaning. A personality, a life history, a pattern of hopes and desires lie behind the psychosis. The fault is ours if we do not understand them… At bottom we discover nothing new and unknown in the mentally ill; rather we encounter the substratum of our own natures.”

Carl Jung is considered to be the father of analytical psychology. I always heard about him but never took the time to read any of his work until I picked up Memories, Reflections, Dreams. What I love most about this book is how insightful it is about his internal world. It’s divided into chronological order starting from the chapter “First Years” where he recollects his first memories of childhood, to “Late Thoughts” and “Retrospect” where he looks back at his life.

Apparently he continued to work on the final stages of the manuscript until shortly before his death on June 6,1961. What he laid out in the field of psychotherapy and psychiatry is the groundwork from which modern scientists build and extend off. When reading his book Memories, Reflections, Dreams I could relate to his observations despite having completely different experiences than him.

Part of what attracts me to Jung’s writing is his complete dedication to unraveling the unconscious self by identifying cross-cultural archetypes and myths we all live by. In doing so, he sheds light on truths that we never thought about questioning, or examining within our own lives. Jung’s writing has transformative qualities and although I’ve only read one book out of 15 I’ve already noticed a change in how I interpret the world around me.

The more I read the deeper I dive into unknown parts of myself…which is both exciting and terrifying.

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