5 spirituality books that woke me up



there are some books that i pick up that change me. and i can't help myself but to share them with you. so here it is—the start of an ongoing content series that i'm calling books that woke me up. the first focus? spirituality.

we're all inherently spiritual beings trying our best to transcend, thrive, heal, and transform through an awkward and often very painful human experience. here are some spirit-rooted texts that have awakened me and helped support me through life. i look forward to hearing which ones YOU have found to be your guides in the comments below.

these are in no particular order.

1. radical acceptance: embracing your life with the heart of a buddha by tara brach.

leading western buddhist teacher tara brach has filled this text with a wealth of vulnerable personal anecdotes and an accessible breakdown of buddhist principles to help us practice one of the most challenging things: liberate ourselves from the suffering that comes from self-judgement, a grave lack of self-acceptance, and truly violent yet unnecessary self-hatred and shame. weaving in diverse insights ranging from christian mystics, the buddha, and everyday people, this book underscores how we can reclaim ourselves individually and collectively through practices related to compassion, forgiveness, and wholeness. as a psychologist and therapist whose work is deeply intertwined with her philosophical practice as a buddhist, she offers useful meditations and thought exercises that i have found to be incredibly practical and useful in my daily life, and which i've adopted in my own classes as a yoga and meditation teacher. 

sit with this:

"All our reactions to people, to situations, to thoughts in our mind are actually reactions to the kind of sensations that are arising in our body. When we become riveted on someone's ineptness and are bursting with impatience, we are reacting to our own unpleasant sensations; when we are attracted to someone and filled with longing and fantasy, we are reacting to pleasant sensations. Our entire swirl of reactive thoughts, emotions, and behaviors springs from this ground of reacting to sensations. When these sensations are unrecognized, our lives are lost in the waterfall of reactivity—we disconnect from living presence, from full awareness, from our heart."

and this:

"When we see the secret beauty of anyone, including ourselves, we see past our judgement and fear into the core of who we truly are—not an entrapped self but the radiance of goodness. As our trust in our basic goodness deepens, we are able to express our love and creativity more fully in the world. Rather than second-guessing ourselves, rather than being paralyzed by self-doubt, we can honor and respond to the promptings that arise from that goodness. In a similar way, when we trust the goodness in others, we become a mirror to help them trust themselves. The actions we take that arise out of lovingkindness are part of our path as a bodhisattva. When we are not consumed by blaming and turning on ourselves or others, we are free to cultivate our talents and gifts together, to contribute them to the world in service. We are free to love each other, and the whole of life, without holding back."

2. the essential rumi. translated by coleman barks.

one of my closest friends, amanda, got me hooked on rumi in college. probably around the same time where i was for the first time in my life questioning christianity. not christ, but the religion i had been socialized within since i entered human existence. i'm grateful that i was introduced to deeply spiritual texts about our innate spirituality as humans disconnected from religion so that i had somewhere loving to land. rumi, a sufi master from the 1200s, resonates so deeply today even in an entirely different world (is it though?) and language. Poetic and moving, his poems will have you looking over your shoulder as you will feel so seen. Here's one that I trust will encourage you to pick up the whole collection:

Not Christian or Jew or Muslim, not Hindu,
Buddhist, sufi, or zen. Not any religion
or cultural system. I am not from the East
or the West, not out of the ocean or up
from the ground, not natural or ethereal, not 
composed of elements at all. I do not exist,
am not an entity in this world or the next, 
did not descent from Adam and Eve or any
origin story. My place is placeless, a trace
of the traceless. Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, have seen the two
worlds as one and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being. 

3. The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

this book has become infused into our team culture at black girl in om. it brings me back to earth daily. it has a magnetic energy: when you read it out in public it's as though everyone has something to say about it being in your hands. don miguel ruiz calls this our "practical guide to personal freedom" and its paradoxically simple yet gut-wrenchingly difficult tenets do just that. he centers the indigeneous wisdom from the toltec people of what we now know as southern mexico who lived on this earth over 3,000 years ago and says: take this up and experience liberation. here are the four agreements, get the book and be changed forever.  

1. be impeccable with your word. speak with integrity. say only what you mean. avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.
2. don't take anything personally. nothing others do is because of you. what others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. when you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won't be the victim of needless suffering.
3. don't make assumptions. find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama. with just this one agreement, you can completely transform your life.
4. always do your best. your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret. 

4. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

19th century Lebanese artist Kahlil Gibran had many artistic expressions and through The Prophet he channels spirit through words and reflections on aspects of the human experience we all encounter: from pain and friendship to love and work. I've gifted this text again and again because it speaks profoundly to everyone in different ways and according to the unique life circumstances we find ourselves within. Here's one of my favorite excerpts, which illuminates duality and acceptance:

"Then a woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow. And he answered: Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven? And is it not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives? When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy. When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight."

5. All About Love: New Visions by bell hooks

Another one that I've gifted countless times, progressive black theorist and and activist bell hooks offers a series of considerations of love within the context of honesty, values and ethics, loss, and more. For anyone striving to learn how to love from a pure place, and unlearn toxic patterns picked up as coping mechanisms from unhealthy relationships earlier in life, or traumatic circumstances during childhood, this is for you. If you've found yourself longing to develop intentionality around how you define love, what a healthy, loving relationship with another person or community looks like, and what love and spirituality have to do with each other: get this book. Here's an excerpt that I find particularly inspiring:

Self-love is the foundation of our loving practice. Without it our other efforts to love fail. Giving ourselves love we provide our inner being with the opportunity to have the unconditional love we may have always longed to receive from someone else. Whenever we interact with others, the love we give and receive is always necessarily conditional. Although it is not impossible, it is very difficult and rare for us to be able to extend unconditional love to others, largely because we cannot predict or utterly control our responses to their actions. We can, however, exercise control over our own actions. We can give ourselves the unconditional love that is the grounding for sustained acceptance and affirmation. When we give this precious gift to ourselves, we are able to reach out to others from a place of fulfillment and not from a place of lack."

That's all, for now. I look forward to hearing if you've found something meaningful in any of the books I've listed, what additional spirituality focused-texts you recommend, and what other kinds of books you want to hear my recommendations for!

Lauren Ash