Practice is all about increasing your capacity to connect more deeply with yourself, your experience, the Universe and the people around you.
Dogmas and strict belief systems can create a sense of safety and belonging for people on the journey, but to get to the truth of experience requires a more empowering approach that connects people to their individual experience.
I have almost entirely been drawn to the tools that help people cultivate an inner knowing more directly and wake up to being in their own life, rather than teachings that present fixed ideas.
These are the resources that I have found most useful in developing my capacity to know myself and my experience and I would highly recommend any of them if you want to create a life that you can connect deeply with.
All of these books and resources helped me become the person I am today. The common theme across them is that they are created by relatable people with a deep understanding of their topic who are demystifying and giving tools and structures that will empower people to understand themselves better and make real changes to their life.
Even if you don’t read them, this is like a brief tour through some of the most important concepts that I have integrated and where they have come from.
The Desire Map – Danielle La Porte
‘A Guide to Creating Goals with Soul’
I’ve always been an ambitious and motivated person, which can be counter-productive for cultivating presence in your immediate life. This book changed that – rather than setting goals that are designed to achieve outside objectives and that fuel the ‘life exists in the future’ mindset that our productivity-focused culture creates, it flips the entire motivation for your goals inside out. It starts with the question, how do you want to feel in life? You can then build your life and goals around cultivating these intentions in life.
It’s a way of bringing desire and intentions into the present moment and getting really clear on what drives you, how you can be of service and where your deepest joy will come from.
Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha – Daniel M Ingram
The subtitle of this book ‘An Unusually Hardcore Dharma Book’ sums it up pretty well. This book basically tells you everything you need to know if you want to find out how to get enlightened, in the Buddhist sense of the word.
It’s incredibly comprehensive, both from the point of view of its understanding of historical Buddhist texts, from Daniel sharing his personal experiences of his own process and from his observations on the stages of insight.
It presents its topic without dogma – giving really clear, open advice and insight into what it is possible to experience if you meditate really hard, including covering a lot of the weird end of what can come up and some of the risks of things like the dark night.
You can download it for free here.
Deconstructing Yourself Podcast – Michael Taft
Michael Taft interviews experienced spiritual practitioners with a level of honesty and openness that provides deep insight into a wide range of both spiritual traditions and the cutting-edge of awakening and meditation.
It’s an amazing resource that gives the opportunity to explore the deep-end of a huge range of ideas without having to buy into any dogmas or spend decades hanging out in a community. It’s also super interesting and fun.
You can find it here.
‘At its core, the Enneagram helps us to see ourselves at a deeper, more objective level and can be of invaluable assistance on our path to self-knowledge.’
The Enneagram identifies nine different fundamental personality types. You will have one that is dominant throughout your life. There are lots of nuances to the type that can be explored, such as wings and sub-types. It has been incredibly illuminating for me to discover my type and also read more about the types of the people who are close to me.
Two of the most beneficial aspects of the Enneagram are discovering quite how different people’s core motivations and orientations can be and also being able to see and accept your own strengths and weaknesses in a non-judgemental way.
You can find out more about how the system works on the Enneagram Institute’s website.
This episode of the Ten Percent Happier Podcast is an excellent introduction to the system. Dan Harris interviews Susan Piver, a Dharma teacher who has studied the system for over 30 years, and discusses how it can be incredibly complementary to Buddhist practices and is good for developing deeper compassion for self and others.
Braving the Wilderness – Brené Brown
Another great subtitle, ‘The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone’.
Brené Brown is a researcher who studies courage, vulnerability, shame and empathy. This book turns your understanding of belonging on its head. It is not about fitting in with a community but about developing the courage to be your true self, even when you don’t fit in.
She gives the tools you need to show up as your true self and connect with your life and other people, by learning to face the wilderness of uncertainty and criticism.
“The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching. It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place as sought after as it is feared. But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand.”
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most
This book by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen is a game changer.
It gives the tools to fundamentally change how you communicate in life; moving away from criticism and defensiveness and being able to speak from a place of self-worth and vulnerability.
It helps reshape difficult situations as an opportunity to problem solve and work together with people, ensuring that everyone feels heard and understood. It was invaluable in me learning to be a good leader in a work context as well as for helping with relationships in my personal life.
I have incorporated much of this into how I teach and facilitate group practices.
A huge part of the path is changing our relationships and how you interact with other people and this book offers a way of being able to do this in a mature and effective way.
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying – Mari Kondo
Taken at face value this is a really powerful book. You environment is so important for shaping who you are and how you feel about yourself and your life.
Most people are culturally numb to the absurdity of how much stuff they own and Mari Kondo gives the perfect structure and tools for helping you to get rid of all the crap that you don’t actually want or need and that is sucking the life force out of you. Creating an environment where you are surrounded with only the stuff that sparks joy is truly life-changing.
If you read into the deeper meaning, it also gives you a way of examining your inner pysche: how and why you feel attached to things and how you can explore learning to let go of that which isn’t aligned with your deepest self. As well as to take pleasure in the things that do give you joy.
This book has given me much more insight into letting go than any Dharma teachings ever have.
Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence – Esther Perel
Esther Perel is a psychotherapist who believes that the quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives. She creates a wide range of content that helps people find aliveness and vitality in their relationships. She has a huge amount of wisdom and is not afraid to cut through people’s bullshit and say it like it is. I would highly recommend any of her content.
This book is about finding the balance between eroticism and safety in our romantic relationships, but the philosophy can also be applied to your wider life.
Releasing the shadows around desire and eroticism is one of the most powerful things you can do on the spiritual path and in life.
Reinventing Organizations – Frederic Laloux
‘A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage in Human Consciousness’
The majority of employees in every sector are disengaged with their work. Given that most people spend the majority of their time at work, this is an absolute tragedy.
Organisations are tied up in power games, stuck under command and control and are at the whim of meeting market-demands – all of this creates a culture of soulless and uninspiring work.
This book gives a comprehensive and realistic description of a different way of doing things, including extensive real life examples of this new way of working in action and the benefits it creates for both workers, customers and owners of public and private organisations.
It’s quite an in-depth and technical book, but it can radically change how you understand work and the wider world, opening up an entirely new way of being and interacting with people around you.
I use the fundamental principles that are laid out in this book in how I work and run retreats.
If you want to get a flavour of this way of working, delivered in a more digestible, story-like format I would recommend reading:
Creativity, Inc. Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration
by Amy Wallace and Edwin Catmull of Pixar.
Entangled Life – Merlin Sheldrake
‘How Fungi Make Our Worlds, Change Our Minds and Shape Our Futures’
This is an excellent book and when read with a bit of imagination, can yield some deep insight into the nature of reality.
It’s a mind-altering journey into the world of fungi. It shows how fungi is the key to understanding the planet, and gives you a completely new way of looking at things that can reframe how you think, feel and behave.
I often use the mycorrhizal network that sustains all life as a metaphor for the network of love or affect that is one of the foundations of experience.
Jung’s work covers a wide range of personal and spiritual experiences including archetypes, individuation, shadows and the collective conscious.
An understanding of his work can be invaluable for navigating emergent experiences, particularly the dark night of the soul.
His work centres around the process of integrating our subconscious thoughts, behaviours and energies into our conscious lives in order to achieve wholeness.
This offers a vital balance to the more transcendent nature of a lot of spiritual practice.
I find Jung’s own writing pretty impenetrable. This book, ‘Jung: A Very Short Introduction’, is a useful and comprehensive overview of his life story and key ideas.
Shadow Work Therapy
Shadow Work Therapy is a radical type of therapy grounded in lifting the shame of being human. It is built on the ideas of Jung and creates a safe space for expressing whatever you find in yourself, including the darkness, your golden shadows and all the ways in which you are afraid to be your true self.
Its focus is on healing through experience – recognising that a vital part of healing is allowing your physical body to release trauma and recalibrate.
Shadow Work provides a safe and structured place for people to access the parts of themselves they wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to, in order for them to reintegrate them into their being.
You can find out more here.
I tend to be very fussy about guided meditations and dharma talks. I believe that it’s very important that you trust the person who is guiding you and feel that you can relax in their presence.
The voice and the subtle details of what someone is saying communicate a lot subconsciously. When people are meditating they’re in a very open and receptive state, so it feels important to me that teaching comes from a place of integrity.
These are the guided meditations and talks that I enjoy, have found useful and that I regularly recommend to others.
Regular weekly meditations guiding you through shamatha and vipashyana and using this as a base for going into various fun, insightful and creative practices that go incredibly deep into emptiness.
You can watch them on Youtube here.
I have only listened to a handful of Rob’s soul-making talks but they made a huge impact on me.
I know lot of people who really appreciate his jhana retreat and his teachings on ways of looking. His teachings are a bit over-thinky for me personally, but they seem to be a good way for people who tend to be really intelligent thinkers to transition to more of a felt-sense of dharma. He’s like a gateway drug into the imaginal realm.
You can find all his talks here on Dharma Seed.
The Warrior’s Solution Retreat by Ken Mcleod
A retreat that takes on the topic of power and includes guided meditations and visualisations grounded in Vajrayana Buddhism.
I often recommend it to people who are struggling with judgemental thinking or an inner critic because there is a super cool exercise where you can imagine killing that mother fucker with a sword.
You can listen to the full retreat here.
Heartfulness is super important to me and I’ve been asked if there are any specific teachings on it that I would recommend. I actually believe that it is less about what is being taught and more about how.
I think there are some clichés and stereotypes about heartfulness that aren’t always that helpful – teaching doesn’t have to be gentle, feminine yoga teaching to be full of heart.
If something feels cold and dry to you, then it’s a sign it’s probably not being taught very whole-heartedly.
If something is being taught heartfully it will feel warm, joyful, caring or very inspiring or important in some way.
Heartfulness is also about finding a resonance with who you are and where you are on your journey, so trusting who and what you feel drawn to is really important.
I do think that retreats are a sacred space and they tend to find you as much as you find them. When people ask my advice about finding retreats, I encourage people to follow their gut and pay attention to the opportunities that come across their path.
Once you are there, the best way to get the most out of retreats is to assume that this is exactly where you need to be and that you will hear exactly what you need to at this moment in your path.
Silence is an excellent teacher and it is also my belief that staying completely in silence for long periods of time is not that productive for practice. People tend to get stuck in their own patterns and ways of thinking; they could spend months stuck somewhere it could take minutes for someone to unblock.
A healthy dose of one-to-one teacher support, group practices and/ or peer learning is always beneficial in my experience.
Fiction, Films, Poetry and Music
I’ve gotten at least as much insight from fiction, films, poetry and music as I have from more explicit spiritual content.
People consume a lot of media as a distraction in our culture but if you slow down and really pay attention to the books, films and music in your life and the emotional impact that is has on you, you will find layers of meaning and storytelling that help you navigate your experience and understanding of the world.
People often happen to find exactly the right story at the right time. It can be quite magical.
I hope that you are able to enjoy connecting with the people and resources that you find along the way on your path. Learning about yourself and deepening your experience can be incredibly hard but it is the greatest adventure that you will go on in life.