Seeker | Maverick | Lover of organic foods and medicine | A believer in the Dalai Lama’s injunction that “My religion is kindness.
I have been a lover of spiritually-uplifting books since I was in my 20s and had come to understand that another dimension to life was slowly feeding its way into my psyche. I have been deeply impacted by spiritually-uplifting novels as well as nonfiction wisdom. I love it when the spiritual journey comes to life through story and allegory. I loved the process of choosing my favourite books. It gave me the opportunity to revisit early inspirations and to recognise that some of these books have truly touched my thinking and understanding. I recently read The Librarian of Auschwitz – based on the true story of Dita Kraus, who managed to keep an illicit library in the concentration camp and that book served to illustrate how books can be a balm to the spirit even in the midst of unbearable suffering.
I love this project and have enjoyed the rich selections of others. All of the titles I have chosen have touched my heart and some my soul.
MALCOLM STERN originally trained in Humanistic Psychology and has been seeing groups, couples and individuals for more than 30 years.
He is a Co-Director and Co-founder of Alternatives in London, and runs psychotherapy groups internationally. In the 1980s, he sailed on the Rainbow Warrior with Greenpeace.
He co-presented the Channel 4 series on relationships Made for Each Other in 2003 and 2004. Slay Your Dragons with Compassion – Ten Ways to Thrive Even When it Feels Impossible is his third book.
My 10 Best
Narziss and Goldmund
by Hermann Hesse
In my 20s I was working as an estate agent and knew there was more to life than making money. I was hungry, but didn’t know what that hunger was about. I went on holiday to Spain with two friends. We went one day to a squash club, which had a small selection of books. I picked up Steppenwolf by Hesse and was captivated by its depth and power. On my return I set about reading all of Hesse’s works. The book that stands out for me is Narziss and Goldmund. It tells the story of two monks at the beginning of their spiritual journey. Narziss stays in the monastery and walks the path of discipline and holiness, finally becoming the Abbot of the monastery. Goldmund spots a beautiful young woman and leaves the monastery. His life is a wild journey of exploration and he commits many crimes in the course of his adventures. At the end of the book the two friends are reunited and the reader, along with Narziss is left pondering on who has truly lived a spiritual life . This book taught me that spirituality means living every part of me and has continued to inspire me over the years.
The Five Invitations
by Frank Ostaseski
Frank was the co-founder of the Zen Hospice Project and sat with more than 2,000 people while they died. The stories he tells are deeply moving and his compassion shines through. This powerful book is the synthesis and learning from accompanying the dying and allowing himself to be educated by them. Frank comes up with five practices that help understand the meaning of life in the midst of death. They are :-
• Don’t wait
• Welcome everything, push away nothing.
• Bring your whole self to the experience.
• Find a place of rest in the middle of things.
• Cultivate don’t know mind.
A treasure trove of a book that forces the reader to take on the reality that death is truly a part of life.
by Aldous Huxley
Laura Huxley, Aldous’s widow, suggested that Island was her husband’s vision of humanity at its sanest and most admirable. This utopian story follows a journalist who is cast ashore on an island, undiscovered by the modern world and whose cynicism is gradually eroded as he becomes educated by the wisdom of the island residents. This novel is rich with imagery including the myna birds who remind us to pay attention and be present. Sadly, this utopia is brought to the attention of the outside world which leads to its destruction. Island’s ability to portray a dignified and sane society has given me hope.
How Can I Help
by Ram Dass and Paul Gorman
A treasure trove of stories illustrating Ram Dass’s wise and compassionate heart. In the 1980s I was fortunate enough to host three lectures by the late Ram Dass at St James’s Church [in London]. From him I began to understand the word “transmission”. When a teacher is truly embodying their teaching and the ego is out of the way, that teaching melts hearts. This book is heartwarming and wise, filled with stories of those who help transform suffering. Published in 1985, it has stood the test of time and is just as relevant in today’s world. Ram Dass was a profound teacher and I feel blessed at having had him in my life.
Man’s Search for Meaning
by Viktor Frankl
There has been much holocaust literature, but this extraordinary book stands head and shoulders above almost anything else that has been penned. Viktor Frankl survived three years in various concentration camps. His narrative is full of dignity and insight. He is a hero in the truest and deepest sense of the word. This book illustrates how Frankl’s deeply rooted humanity withstood the most appalling treatment and not only did he survive, but invented logotherapy, a psychotherapy which focuses on the meaning of human existence as well as man’s search to find such a meaning. For me, Frankl offers the vision of a role model of the ability to transform suffering and not to be a victim.
by James Hilton
A beautiful book that touches the soul of the reader. Hugh Conway, the novel’s hero, finds a monastery hidden deep in a Tibetan mountain range, where the lamas live in tune with spirit. Conway is persuaded by his fellow travellers to leave Shangri-La but eventually finds his way back to this earthly paradise. A great adventure story as well as a vision of how a spiritual life might be lived. There is an element of escapism, but Lost Horizon is a sweet vision.
by Kahlil Gibran
I have had this book near my bedside for as long as I can remember. It is one of the go-to books for any spiritual seeker. About ten years ago, Sarah Warwick, Peter Coyte and I put together an album of ten of the teachings, set to music with beautiful choruses. I narrated some of the tracks and found that my immersion in Gibran’s wisdom brought the magic of his teaching to life. We did five live concerts, with a ten-piece band, at venues including Alternatives, Findhorn’s Universal Hall, and Triyoga. His words will forever resonate deep in my heart.
Balancing Heaven and Earth
by Robert A. Johnson
Robert Johnson was a psychotherapist whose life has been steeped in wisdom and mysticism. This memoir, looking back over his life at 75 years of age, has numerous golden moments. I think my favourite is not to give away your gold. What he means by this is not to project your own wisdom onto another. Johnson lost a leg at eleven years old which started him on a mystical journey and his story is beautifully told in this book. There is a great humility alongside a powerful knowing in these pages. A great contribution to the psycho-spiritual world.
by Richard Powers
This deeply touching novel, written in 2018, won the Pulitzer Prize last year. It is a mesmerising paean to nature and specifically to trees. He helps the reader understand the secret life of trees; their capacity to communicate and to be in relationship. It was that rare novel that I couldn’t bear to finish. Underlying its story is the understanding of man’s recklessness and foolishness. Not only is the Overstory beautifully researched, but it is a gripping and educational eco epic. I now see trees in a different light and appreciate their gift to our planet.
A New Earth
by Eckhart Tolle
I have met with Eckhart a few times and am always left with the impression that his is awake. Even in mundane conversation, I experience his presence, which is both ordinary and extraordinary at the same time. For me, the beauty of this book (a follow up to The Power of Now) is its optimism that the human race can wake up and transcend suffering. This is a user’s guide to humanity and is both simple and profound. His philosophy is that who we truly are is infinitely greater than anything we can imagine and that now is the time to wake up.