10 books that changed my life — permanently and for the better [part 2]

In Growth, Spirituality by KenLeave a Comment

As my audiobook library continues to grow, even since my last post (Part 1 of the 10 books that changed my life), it gets harder and harder to narrow the list to the most game-changing books I’ve ever read.

But here are five more books that made a significant and permanent change to my outlook on life. Maybe they can do the same for you.

6] Proof of Heaven, by Eben Alexander, M.D.

Why the book matters. As a neurosurgeon, Alexander had been skeptical of the idea of an afterlife or a higher power. But when he fell into a coma and his brain shut down due to severe meningitis, he underwent a near-death experience (NDE) and subsequent spiritual awakening that changed his perspective entirely. Through vivid descriptions and personal insights, the book recounts Alexander’s journey to “Heaven” and his encounters with angelic beings. While some may question his claims, Alexander’s story is a compelling and inspiring exploration of the mysteries of the human consciousness and what happens after we die. 

How it changed me. I found this book at a critical time in my life. I didn’t know anything about NDEs, or really even believe in them. But the story grabbed my attention, especially when Alexander described the lessons he brought back from the “Other Side.” One of those lessons was this: “There is nothing you can do wrong.” Something about those words caught me, stunned me, changed me. Suddenly, I realized that my concept of God had been all wrong. God doesn’t sit high above us, condemning us from afar. Instead, God is all nurturing, all accepting, all loving. Unconditional love, I now understand, is the fundamental law of the Universe. This book propelled me into a spiritual journey — and now that I’m on it, I’ll never look back.

7] The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, by Steven Pinker

Why the book matters. Cognitive psychologist Pinker explores the decline of violence in human societies over time, arguing that, despite our perception of a violent and chaotic world, violence has decreased significantly over centuries and even millennia. The book also delves into the factors contributing to this decline, including empathy, reason, and the rule of law. Overall, Pinker offers a hopeful and thought-provoking perspective on human nature and our (often ignored) potential for progress.

How it changed me. I’m not a violent guy. I don’t even like violent movies anymore. My meditative practice has taught me that all life is sacred and beautiful, even though we can’t always recognize that. Pinker’s book taught me that the humans as a species not only can improve over time, we have been, and for a very long time. “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Martin Luther King. The timeline is long, but justice is coming — as is a better and more loving society for us all.

8] The Doors of Perception, by Aldous Huxley

Why the book matters. This classic work of literature explores the depths and expansiveness of human perception and consciousness. Drawing on his experience with mind-altering mescaline, Huxley explains that our perceptions are severely limited by the brain’s filtering and processing mechanisms. Through poetic language and philosophical musings, he describes his heightened sensory experiences and profound insights into the nature of reality.

How it changed me. The more I listened to this audiobook, the more I questioned reality itself. Our minds, as Huxley aptly points out, function as “reducing valves” designed for survival on this planet. But just beyond the veil — through means like meditation, prayer, or even psychedelic substances — we can access a more profound and holistic experience of reality. There is much to explore out there when we find the ways to do it. And it all exists outside our five senses.

9] Acid Test: LSD, Ecstasy, and the Power to Heal, by Tom Shroder

Why the book matters. This is a fascinating exploration of the history, culture, and therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs. Shroder weaves together personal stories, scientific research, and historical context to shed light on the controversial use of LSD and ecstasy (MDMA) in therapeutic settings. Profiling the pioneers of psychedelic research and therapy, as well as the patients who have benefited from these treatments, he makes a compelling case for the potential of these medicines to heal trauma, addiction, and mental health issues.

How it changed me. I grew up in the midst of a Drug War without even realizing it was being waged. I simply accepted the “all drugs are bad” propaganda. But this book opened my eyes to the fact that mental health was being held hostage by an outdated and paranoid philosophy proclaiming that people can’t be trusted to explore their own consciousness. I read this book shortly after its publication in 2014. Now, nearly a decade later, I’m thrilled to see that a “psychedelic renaissance” is bringing new research and treatments to a world increasingly struggling with deep and chronic existential pain.

10] After the Ecstasy, the Laundry, by Jack Kornfield

Why the book matters. Drawing on decades of experience as a meditation teacher and therapist, Kornfield offers practical guidance for integrating spiritual experiences into daily life. He discusses common pitfalls that can arise after peak experiences, like ego inflation, spiritual bypassing, and burnout. Via personal stories and practical advice, Kornfield invites us to embrace the messy reality of human existence while staying connected to the deeper truths of spiritual practice.

How it changed me. They call it “practice” for a reason. I’ve been lucky enough to experience a few mind-blowing and life-changing peak spiritual experiences. But those were merely waystations, allowing me to take a breath during this painful human experience and get my bearings so I can continue the climb. Kornfield’s book reminded me: it’s about the journey, not the destination. Now that I have those guideposts, I can keep my eye on the mountain peak while continuing to practice the daily work of spiritual growth…which often includes things like commuting in rush-hour traffic, parenting angsty teens, and folding endless laundry.

Photo by Hitoshi Suzuki on Unsplash

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