These books changed my life and drastically shaped who I am today.
Emerson’s “Self Reliance”
Inspirational essay. I will never forget reading this after breaking up with my ex-girlfriend Elyse. I was living with my brother, sitting on the porch, in the sun. I was “glad to the brink of fear.” I felt at one with the universe, at peace, perhaps more than ever before. This is American 1800’s Transcendentalism at its best. It reminds me that I can do all things, that God is in me, I in God, that nature is a reflection of the soul, that behind all matter is Mind. But most of all, that our potential is hauntingly great if we would only touch the surface of it.
Marcus Aurelius Meditations
Stoicism at its finest. He wrote these beautiful, power, and peaceful reflections on the battlefield. His mind was tranquil. His soul was impenetrable. His emotions were under control (note: emotions are fine, it’s about controlling them, releasing them appropriately). He only worried about those things which are actually in his control. For all other things, he looked to the grace of God and humbly submitted to Fate.
The Gospel of Thomas
I love all the Gospels (especially Mark), but the so called Gospel of Thomas is my favorite. Haven’t heard of it? Well, it didn’t make the cut into the Bible, but, interestingly, it may have been the source for Mark, Matthew, and Luke (these three are called the “synoptic” Gospels because they share a lot of content with each other). It’s dated very early, around 80 C.E., so it’s closer to when Jesus actually preached. The Gospel of Thomas is literally is list of Jesus teachings. That’s it. Jesus said x, Jesus said y. It condenses all the Gospels to the beautiful core teachings of love and forgiveness. To me, this is Christianity. Okay, sure, it does have some crazy philosophical gnostic stuff for good measure but not much.
If you are into philosophy, this is the classic. It will start you on the path of questioning everything. Take the red pill. This little book, written by the father of early modern philosophy in the 1600’s, is where The Matrix movie idea comes from, the idea that we might be “plugged in” and that reality might be a fake reality, pulled over our eyes by some machines (or in this case, an evil demon). Descartes (pronouced day-cart) literally goes into seclusion to meditate on the fundations of knowledge. What can who know for certain? “I think, therefore I am.” We know that we exist. And what knowledge can be built upon that? Read and find out.
Tolstoy The Kingdom of God is Within You
Tolstoy’s Christianity is my Christianity. Tolstoy, the greatest Russian novelists ever, eventually had a profound conversation to Christianity later in life. He mocked all his earlier works as sophistry and wrote this book, The Kingdom of God is Within You, which breaks down Christianity to its simplest and most powerful principles, which are…..drumroll please……the core teachings of Jesus Christ. Love your enemies. Never resort to violence. And never judge people. This book chanced my life and my religion.
Plato’s Dialogues (any of them)
A philospher once said that all of philosophy is nothing but a footnote to Plato. It’s true. He pretty much laid out all the possible thoughts you could have about the big ideas. Truth, beauty, knowledge, belief, free will, morality, God–his Socratic dialogues cover it all in an engaging and suprisingly common sense way. It’s for beginners. Plato and Descartes hooked me for life. Not to mention that the manSocrates, who the dialogues are about, was a hero that died for truth, embodying more than ever a Seeker for truth, wherever truth may lead. Socrates is the “Jesus of truth.”