the books that have shaped me

the books that have shaped me

When I travel, I’m not the person who brings a stack of new books waiting to be read. I’m the person who brings the same five books. While I’m all for a fresh read, I’m also for comfort and wisdom, and these books give me these things.

I’ve had them with me in a commune in the North California wilderness, in my backpack in the Pacific Northwest (not really advised- makes for a pretty heavy pack), on a hiking trip in the Rocky Mountains (again, Kindle would be better), on airplanes, on a road trip up through the New England states, and many places in-between. When I need grounding, emotional support, or a reminder of what’s really important, I turn to them. They’ve been with me long before I became a mother, but now that I’m raising a child their value to me has only increased.

Oftentimes I feel a kind of nostalgia for something I’ve never had before: a nurturing circle of elders that can light the path in front of me a little. I bet you know what I’m talking about. I’ve got a wonderful mother, but beyond that, I’m lost.

While I may never have a circle of wise women to turn to in physical form, these five books fill the gap pretty well, and I love them dearly, and I know you will as well.

My copies are all worn and torn and underlined to bits, which is just the way I like them to be. Someday when R is all grown up and living her own life, I will give pass them on to her and by then they will hold a lifetime of my hopes and struggles fears and teardrops on paper. What a gift that will be.

Read: When Things Fall Apart

This book is my bible. My mom hates the title….but I’m telling you, Pema has written a gem. And don’t think it’s only for the rough times because it’s basic, timeless, absolute wisdom for everyday life.

“When we want to make a sudden move, when we start to speed through life, when we feel we must have a resolution, when someone yells at us when we feel insulted, we want to yell back or get even. We want to put out our poison. Instead, we can connect with basic human restlessness, basic human aggression, by practicing tonglen for all beings. Then we can send out a sense of space, which further slows things down. Sitting there, standing there, we can allow the space for the usual habitual thing not to happen. Our words and actions might be quite different because we allowed ourselves time to touch and taste and see the situation first.”

Read: Women Who Run with the Wolves

This book is pure power, written in myths for the modern woman. I brushed off reading for so long because I thought it was just such a cliché, but when I a friend read me a paragraph from it one evening I was hooked. It’s a classic for a reason.

“…A woman must be willing to burn hot, burn with passion, burn with words, with ideas, with desire for whatever it is that she truly loves….Most of us would do better if we became more adept at watching the fire under our work, if we watched more closely the cooking process for nourishing the wild Self. Too often we turn away from the pot, from the oven. We forget to watch, forget to add fuel, forget to stir. We mistakenly think the fire and cooking are like one of those feisty houseplants that can go without water for eight months before the poor thing keels over. It is not so. The fire bears, requires watching, for it is easy to let the flame go out….So it is the cooking up of new and completely original things, of new directions, of commitments to one’s art and work that continuously nourishes the wild soul….Without the fire, our great ideas, our original thoughts, our yearnings and longings remain uncooked, and everyone is unfulfilled.”

Read: The Complete Artist’s Way

I could never really get into the Artist’s Way until I stumbled across this beautiful, hardback compilation of three of her books: The Artist’s Way, Walking in the World, and Finding Water. It seemed to emanate magic, and now after owning it for many years I still think so. Cameron weaves together creativity and spirituality into something that seems like the work worthy of a monk or priestess, and after all, it is.

“Working at my work a day at a time, I have written twenty books now plus a great deal of music and a number of plays and screenplays. It has all been accomplished by the “easy does it” method. I try to be a conduit and a channel. I try not to be self-conscious, not to be worried about how “I” am doing. For three pages daily, I “listen” and write what I “hear.” In a sense, I cannot take credit for what I accomplish. My productivity has really been born of cooperation. This cooperation is what I can model for artists younger than myself. I “show up” for work. They can do the same.”

Read: Writing Wild

Warning: This book is going to make you want to run outside barefoot and write. Tina teaches something called a “Spirit Walk”, which is a three-step process for tuning in to ourselves self and to nature in order to blossom our creativity.

“Deepening our relationship with nature teaches us much about understanding our own creative energy. Tanya Wilkinson says in her book Medea’s Folly, “Nature renews life by taking life apart. The fundamental regeneration of life depends on the disintegration of life.” Organic materials decay and break down into parts that produce fertile soil. This is the pattern for the process of naming, detailing, and interacting. We are taking ourselves and nature apart, getting conscious of them both piece by piece. We are opening the pods, counting, the seeds, fingering the edges of a leaf, smelling the dirt, chewing grass stems, listening to the wind. And inside, we are journeying to our instinctive center, the reptile brain.”

Read: A Field Guide to the Now

I bought this book long before I even wanted kids, which is funny because the whole thing is a mother’s experience of the passing of time with children and a family. That’s how special Christina’s writing is: It’s poetry.

“We wake up and sing in the shower, or wake up and bury our heads. We wake up grinning, or we wake up feeling like shit. Sometimes we wake before the children and burrow into each other’s warmth, lingering like otters; other times we wake late with heavy eyelids, and then the green numbers on the bedside clock become unforgiving marshals of lateness. Whatever way we wake up, we move toward the day together. This is a thing we give each other daily, this small act in tandem, this slight choreography of promise between us-the way the leaf always flutters in response to the wind. And so the day starts again.”

Have you read any of these? Let me know in the comments below :)

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