During our beanddo training sessions we are often asked to recommend a good book, so in celebration of World Book Day 2018, we’ve handpicked five of the best meditation books that we think get it right and help beginners to find their right direction.
All five books are on our teacher training reading list; we present them here in order of complexity. In them, you will hopefully discover a turn of phrase, a moment of insight that connects with you too in your practice. These are little signposts that when joined together, map out a journey that is unique to you.
Teach Us To Sit Still: A Sceptic's Search for Health and Healing - Tim Parks (2010)
“Things as they are. This bowl. The table. White yoghurt. At the last breakfast I was overwhelmed by the sheer presence of it all. This bread, this square of butter. Things as they are.”
This is Parks describing his breakfast following an early morning hour-long meditation at one of two meditation retreats he attends.
Parks is an absolute beginner to meditation. In fact, it's so alien to his normal day-to-day world as a well-known writer, his experiences here are all the more revealing to anyone who is thinking of diving into meditation. He readily admits that he has spent his adult life sedentary in front of a computer, thinking up things, while hoping that the stuff he thinks up will at some imagined future point gain him merit, reward and the adulation he thinks he deserves. In short, he was an expert at living in his head, mostly in the future, never in the real world. The result was long periods of stress and anxiety resulting in a debilitating abdominal illness which Parks thinks is prostate cancer. The tests come back clear.
But it still hurts…
A surgeon friend is happy to cut him open and ‘repair’ whatever it is. To Parks’ credit he refuses as he gradually comes round to thinking there is more happening in his body than just physical stuff. He learns a guided relaxation technique which for him is a revelation. He feels the whole of himself for the first time - and from there, finds himself at a silent meditation retreat.
Parks describes what happens next with great humour and honesty. He gets well but he also notices that his thoughts and words too, the very tools of his art, fall short of describing who we are really are and what we can really do.They are obstacles. If you are new to meditation, this is a skeptic's analysis that turns out to be one of the best messages on why we all need to bring meditation into our lives before it’s too late. It will make you laugh, cry and feel not only for Parks but for all of us…
Catching the Big Fish - David Lynch (2006)
Lynch is a hero at beanddo, both as an artist and yogi. The opening Diner scene in Mulholland Drive is for me probably the most shocking, haunting and breathtakingly beautiful cinematic moments. Google it, if you haven’t seen it. Many people know Twin Peaks, Elephant Man, Dune etc., but surprised that Lynch is a long-term meditator, who will readily talk about bliss, joy, peace and creativity while also scaring people in his films. In the US Lynch is pioneering meditation in schools, prisons and war veterans with the David Lynch Foundation.
Catching the Big Fish is funny, insightful and illuminating. You have to know Lynch's character a little and be familiar with his delivery. It’s style is clipped and direct. But it is an easy read. He’s also not afraid to come at with you some big concepts on consciousness, creativity and where ideas come from (they are the Big Fish). There is not a great deal here on technique; he leaves that to others. Lynch is more concerned about why we need to meditate and what happens in your day-to-day world when you do.
Catching the Big Fish is for me a personal book. Lynch says that meditation reveals the joy of doing, the impact of your practice on others and how the world becomes brighter better place. For Lynch, like me, happiness and creativity are the same thing. Just dive in says Lynch and catch those Fish.
Inner Engineering: A Yogi’s Guide to Joy - Sadhguru (2016)
Sadhguru is often described as a modern day guru. We like that here at beanddo. Don't be put off by appearances - the long white beard and hair, the scarves and robes. This is a motorbiking, Everton-supporting, coffee-drinking, funky yogi who really gets it. When we were in India last year his image was everywhere; on posters, in newspapers, on the TV. He even makes an appearance at the duty free at Delhi airport.
Yoga and meditation for him is a science that we adapt and apply. Just as there is a science for shaping our outer world for benefit (engineering, architecture etc.) there is also a science for shaping our inner world for benefit. This we call yoga and meditation is the main practice.
Sadhguru talks about his own journey in terms of how he learned not to be ‘enslaved’ by external events. He tells us that the ‘here and now’ is the only thing that matters because that is where everything is. If we spend all our time being distracted, we miss out on life. All we have to do is develop the ability to let go and respond to life with a big YES! Meditation is the solution.
If you want to know what Yogis are for and how they work and then how you could be one and perhaps save the world in the process then you have to pick up this book.
Mindfulness In Plain English - Bhante Henepola Gunaratana (2002)
If Parks gives a beginners view, Lynch a working view and Sadhguru the yogi’s view, then Gunaratna describes with brilliant clarity how to get down and practice meditation.
Gunaratana says it like it is, in plain English. Here is a yogi meditator at the peak of his teaching powers with a clear description of what is involved. The book stands in huge contrast to other so-called mindfulness teaching which confuses relaxation, raisin-chewing, thinking pretty thoughts and contemplation as authentic meditation practice. This is the real thing!
The technique described here is vipassana, or Open Monitoring Meditation which is also at the core of our modern meditation beanddo programmes.
The technique is non-judgemental observation towards sustained awareness moment-to-moment. Gunaratna tells us that mediation is simply a special way of seeing. Of learning to shift perspective, perception, stop and just know things as they are. There is page after page on dealing with distractions, posture, sensations, thoughts, judgments and perception - it's all in this book.
We would say this book is a must for all beginners.
It works as a handbook to dip into often. But go to a teacher too. Otherwise sentences such as ‘learning to look with clarity and precision, seeing each component as distinct, and piercing all the way through to perceive the most fundamental reality of that thing,’ will just confuse you.
The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle (2001)
You are not in the Now...You are the Now,
So says Tolle. And he's right. This huge best seller will take you further and further into your practice. But to really get it you need to practice too. Chapters like ‘Moving Deeply into the Now’, ‘You Are Not Your Mind’ or ‘The Inner Body’ will be familiar to many of my yoga students and to others who have taken part in some of our deeper beanddo programmes.
Tolle takes us right to the core of meditation, as described in ancient yoga science by way of Einstein - to know your inherent nature which resides and in and is part of continuous space/time - the eternal NOW. Meditation practice, Tolle says, bring that realisation that you and the now are the same thing and that they exist together in a profound and unmanifested spatial stillness and peace, creativity and flow. The Power of Now is really all about you right here, right now. Knowing that changes everything.
This is a beautifully-written, poetic book. You may have already read it and got something from it and then added to your book shelves.
Read it again, with at least six months meditation practice under your belt. It will deepen in meaning and insight. There will be observations you previously thought you understood but which will take on a deeper texture, colour and depth. You will know what Tolle is driving at beyond an intellectual understanding. Tolle confirms in his writing that in the end, meditation is an ‘intuitive’ process and no amount reading will get you there. You have to feel your way in.’
This take us right back to Parks’ conclusion. Words in the end are not so helpful.
Learn to ‘look in a special way’ by going to a good teacher.
We haven't even touched on the core texts such as the Bhagavad Gita or the Yoga Sutras, William Blake, Aldous Huxley or even the talks of Steve Jobs.
But start with these five and you will begin to develop a vocabulary of meditation practice.