You may have read our recommendations for the what we think are the five best books on meditation for beginners. For those of you who are more advanced and further along in your practice here are five more recommendations. Hopefully, in one of these books you will discover more tools to help you overcome obstacles, expand your knowledge and go further towards being and doing more.
- The Experience of Insight: A Natural Unfolding by Joseph Goldstein (1980)
This book charts the journey of a meditation teacher and his teaching and instruction given during a 30-day Vipassana Meditation retreat. Divided day-by-day, the book starts with basic instruction and a timetable describing how each 18 hour day is organised. Each day starts with instruction and ends with a talk and a few questions from the students. The retreat is silent otherwise. If you have read Tim Park’s ‘Teach Us To Sit Still’, which describes his experience as a student at a Vipassana retreat, Goldstein’s book describes the viewpoint of the teacher and what it is he/she is trying to convey. This one really is for advanced meditators only.
Over the 30 days, Goldstein gradually cuts to the core of the Vipassana practice with his evening talks. He describes how meditation can refine and change your relationship to yourself, your thinking, to others and the world. That is the core of vipassana, a shift of perspective which promotes a letting-go in order to experience things as they really are. If you would like to know how this is liberating and empowering, here is fragment of Goldstein’s talk given on the evening of the twenty-fifth day:
“One of the things that struck me most forcibly when I began the practice of meditation was the fact that so many actions were motivated by a desire to project some image: dressing in a certain way, relating to people in a certain way; or revolving about a concept of myself I have created and then struggles to maintain. To carry around an image of ourselves is a great burden, causing a strain or tension between what we actually are in the moment and the image we are trying to project.”
Just take a moment and let the above quote sink in. Does that sound like you or somebody you know?
- The Meditator’s Dilemma by Bill Morgan (2016)
Every so often, the long-term meditator will meet obstacles to practice. It’s not that it’s being done incorrectly, it’s just what happens. In fact, dealing with obstacles is a core meditation practice; some would say it’s the whole point. Meditation practice is never a smooth, upward curve. There are pitfalls, there are distractions and sometimes it feels as if you’ve lost your way a little. But no matter what happens, just practice – you are heading in the right direction.
This is the theme of Morgan’s book: the dilemma for the meditator is falling consistency. Too often many meditators will give up on the practice or meditate only sporadically. Morgan’s view, as a long-term meditator and as a clinical psychologist, is that we need better meditation teachers, but we also need a simpler, more consistent, meditation approach which is more inviting and geared towards the needs and expectations of 21st century practitioners.
He argues that far too many people carry around their own obstacles to happiness. The assumption is that a happy life can only be achieved after one overcomes procrastination, fear and doubt. So in response, meditation has to be taught in a way that helps soften these obstacles. The key is a step-by-step process, starting with deep relaxation before moving on to a mental experience which Morgan calls ‘the holding environment’.
Morgan’s book is full of insight and experience, gained from his own practice and those of his students and patients. Here is an investigation into the power of meditation, as a life-saving therapy. There is an abundance of relaxation, breathing and visualisation techniques in the book. One of our particular favourites, which we have adapted as a centring exercise in our Make Happy Work programmes, involves a visualisation encouraging one to safely drift away from turbulent thinking to a deeper place of stillness. If you are looking to expand your practice, but perhaps offer something new to your students, this is the book for you.
- The Secret Path by Paul Brunton (1935)
The author and this book are recent discoveries for me. Recommended by one of my yogi friends, this short book is probably one of the best books I’ve read on meditation practice and it’s application in the world. It requires a bit of work to get started, and you have to navigate your way through some heavy-dated language. But once you get into the flow of the book it is full of amazing insight and clarity of depth which many modern books on meditation only scratch the surface of.
is regarded as one of the early yoga and meditation pioneers in the UK. A good 30 years before the Beatles and the arrival of yoga. The Secret Path, of course, may have been hidden and not much travelled in 1930s UK. We know now that it isn’t really a secret at all. Brunton is referring to the fact everyone’s meditation journey is personal and internal. To help on that path, Brunton describes a step-by-step process, starting with ways to settle the mind, turning one’s attention inward via a set of simple techniques towards awakening one’s intuition, our inner nature, which in turn allows one to take what Brunton calls, ‘inspired action’:
“Then we shall attack the world’s problems of poverty, war, disease and ignorance with a new zest and with better success…”
You can imagine Brunton in his day would not have taken many prisoners. This is a serious work requiring you as the reader to engage with some of the deeper aspects of yoga science. Having said that his instructions are gentle and encouraging. Our morning meditation practice, he says, is when we plug into our true selves. However:
“..most people make it their first duty to think of their present troubles, the work in hand or the persons they are soon to meet. Their activities and their problems are first in their thoughts. Instead of obtaining that wisdom which should inspire all their activities and sold all their problems”.
- Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990)
This is a book about yoga and meditation and how to apply it in the world. Although the author makes only limited reference to the practice of meditation and yoga, its essential message is the same. The scientific term for flow is autotelic experience. And when practiced it will:
“Lift the course of life to a different level. Alienation gives way to involvement, enjoyment replaces boredom, helplessness turns into a feeling of control, and psychic energy works to reinforce the sense of self, instead of being lost in the service on external goals. When experience is intrinsically rewarding life is justified in the present instead of being held hostage to a hypothetical future gain”.
Flow is a work established in positive psychology and the author conveys very clearly the link between creativity and joy. Maybe unknowingly, he also describes the techniques for making everything in life a meditation. This makes this work very useful as a stopping place on one’s meditation journey, particularly as it comes from an area of investigation outside of one’s own practice. It’s a confirmation and an affirmation that what you’re doing is right.
- The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners by Jack Hawley (2001)
There comes a time in your meditation journey where you find yourself working back towards the source. For me, it’s yoga and the Bhagavad Gita and in particular this translation of this ancient text by Jack Hawley. What makes this particular work interesting is that it is more than a direct translation. Hawley takes the essential message and conveys it in a way that is understandable, insightful and inspirational. As the title suggests, Hawley has shaped this perennial message so that it can be digested and applied by the Western mindset. This makes this edition of the Gita very useful and easy to apply.
Like all yoga texts, the Gita will reveal its meaning gradually. So it merits reading and re-reading. Combined with a regular meditation practice you will find that the essential message of the Gita, one of inspired action in the world, underpinned by science and art of yoga, impacts on everything that you do. I carry my well-worn, annotated copy around almost all of the time because the Gita is full of stuff like this:
“The ideal (Arjuna), is to be intensely active and at the same time have no selfish motives, no thoughts of personal gain or loss. Duty uncontaminated by desire leads to inner peacefulness and increased effectiveness. This is the secret art of living a life of real achievement!”
Or as we say at beanddo:
happiness = being + doing – expectation
Find out more about our modern meditation programmes and take your meditation practice to the next level.