Note: I may not agree with the entirety of views expressed in these books, but have found all of them extremely helpful in understanding human experience and they have made me a better circler, healer, and compassionate human being.
Mind illuminated is an absolutely crystal clear and accessible introduction to concentration that starts at beginner and eventually goes into some very advanced nuances of practice. Culdasa describes an entire path of awakening that can be achieved through concentration practice. While I don’t think concentration alone is a good way to achieve such awakening, the technical clarity of this manual is not matched by anything else I’ve read. The clear descriptions of each stage of practice, what to expect and what kind of challenges one faces each step of the way has deepened my insight and clarity of the workings of attention and helped me deepen my practice. Culdasa also presents several models of how the meditative mind works, which are worth it by themselves even if you don’t take up the practice.
Loch Kelly has done a great service here by clarifying and sharing meditative pointing out instructions for certain states of awareness that I am told one typically has to follow a lineage for several years before one is given access to. I recommend his audiobook over the text since it is a short introduction followed by 5-10 minute segments of various ways of guiding people into and exploring various states of awareness. With his instructions I have been able to point people with very little meditation experience to these states.
While not exactly meditation, focusing is a practice that Eugene Gendlin made explicit when trying to figure out why some people got a huge benefit out of therapy, and others did not. He found that people who gained significant benefit from therapy where naturally utilizing this process. I consider Focusing the “ABCs” of emotional awareness, and a necessary step in order to springboard into being able to utilize meditative awareness for psychological healing, and having a more mindful relationship to one’s body. Some people have found Ann Cornell’s book “The Power of Focusing” a more accessible introduction than Eugene’s original book. Either will suffice in learning to utilize this key process.
I am hoping that Byron Katie’s work no longer needs introduction. Her simple and deeply profound method of inquiry has the potential to create very deep change and transformation. Her perspective has catapulted me into new levels of insight in key moments in my own path. Her method is also an excellent exercises in multiple perspective taking. If you haven’t already seen the videos of her working with people one-on-one on youtube, take a look:
This one is for the Integral geeks out there. Streams of Wisdom is a theoretical discussion about where and how meditation should be treated within the context of Integral Theory and Integral Practice (basically that meditation done by itself is limited and needs to be done along with other practices). Using various models to discuss meditation, Diperna points out different aspects of spiritual development, and the necessity to address other forms of psychological maturity along with meditative practice. He also describes an inspiring vision of what is possible when people fully engage in the practice of waking up (to our nature), growing up (developmentally), cleaning up (our shadow), and showing up (in relationship and the world). You will not really find any practice instructions in this book.
A paper I found online that was very useful in clarifying the historical origins and ideas behind John Bowlby and Mary Ainsworth’s work and how Attachment Theory came to be because of their thinking and research. It also clarifies the context of psychology at the time and how Bowlby’s ideas were considered controversial and were ill-received when first introduced. I cannot vouch for the accuracy of this paper (I am not an academic researcher) but it appears well researched and documented: http://www.psychology.sunysb.edu/attachment/online/inge_origins.pdf
While people often recommend Stan Tatkin’s other books for getting into his PACT (Psychobiological Approach to Couples Therapy) work, I think this is the best book to read since his other books are for laypeople, and this one is for therapists. It has more detail, nuance, and meat in my opinion. This book is for therapists interested in learning how he uses his PACT model to help adults find secure functioning in their relationships. The book gives various examples of couples in therapy and introduction to the frameworks he uses in his interventions. I have found his model of secure functioning to be paradigm shifting for myself and my view of relationships. It has been incredibly useful in bridging circling practice into my intimate relationships.
Stephen Porges’ – Polyvagal Theory
Don’t let the name intimidate you. Polyvagal simply refers to the many branches of the vagal nerve that are involved in the regulation of the nervous system. Polyvagal Theory, in conjunction with Peter Levine’s work, is absolutely necessary to understand for anyone who wants to do any kind of interpersonal work with others. The whole theory is about how the nervous system uses an evolutionary hierarchy of strategies to deal with stress – social engagement first, fight or flight next, then freezing last. If you do any kind of healing work or interpersonal work, you will run into these states, and need to understand them. The theory clarifies some nuances about how these different states affect the physiology of the body as well as our psychology. I find Porges’ writing a bit too technical for my liking. I am told this was necessary because his ideas were very controversial when first introduced, and needed the backing by data and use of more scientific lexicon in order to be more generally accepted. The best introduction to his theory, I think, are videos of his talks online. If you want to know even more, you can pick up his Pocket Guide to Polyvagal Theory, which I have read and found useful for some additional nuances.
Porge’s Online Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MYXa_BX2cE8&t=1317s
A very easy non-technical introduction by Seth Porges (Not Related to Stephen I think?) – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=br8-qebjIgs&t=101s
I found the green covered introduction to IFS book to be very simple and not in-depth enough for my uses. I recommend this book to start. It provides a clear and thorough introduction Internal Family Systems along with examples of clients in therapy. This is the clearest and best framework I have come across about how to go about doing parts work. It has become the master framework that I use when doing any kind of psychological work (as opposed to meditative work) with people. Schwartz’s understanding of how to navigate someone’s interior experience as a constellation of parts attempting to perform different roles to protect the system is invaluable. I get worried that people who do not know this system are likely working against themselves as they try to help others. Interestingly I also found Schwartz’s descriptions of the healthy characteristics of an internal system and working with families to be extremely clarifying about group dynamics and how to facilitate groups. It is oddly then the best book on group leadership that I have read so far. Worth reading over and over until it becomes ingrained in how you think about human experience.
The workbook is a shorter book that includes examples of IFS in action in therapy, concise and clear descriptions of IFS techniques, principles, and also guided meditations and self-inquiry. This is a more bare-bones book that describes the essential framework in action so that it can be applied in therapy. A very useful reference.
This is a great NLP process for working with parts. It can be practiced by oneself. I have enjoyed using this process to work with my own parts. It is based on the interesting idea that many parts of ourselves are confused – they believe that they need to achieve certain conditions in order to feel or experience oneness, love, inner peace, etc… rather than realizing that they have access to those experiences at any given moment. Very useful for just working with parts or working with specific situations in your life.
I recommend familiarizing yourself with Polyvagal Theory before reading this book. Levine’s descriptions and ideas line up exactly with Porges’ theory, making it an even more enjoyable and insightful read. Levine points out how trauma is basically what happens when people are one way or another conditioned into being helpless, and cannot process or express fight or flight energy as a result. They walk around in a constant state of simultaneous distress and shutdown. I found this book incredibly useful in understanding how Polyvagal theory is applied in the healing of past traumas.
Besser Van Der Kolk’s book is a description of his career of work and research with Trauma. Starting with PTSD of combat veterans, Besser details his career that began way back when the nature of trauma and its impact was less understood. The book is filled with examples, case studies, and interesting descriptions of various research he conducted, various modalities he has studied, and ways that he his organization has worked with those impacted by trauma. Besser illuminates the impact of trauma on people and its great cost to society. He also talks about some of his difficulties in trying to get the mental health community to accept and understand the implications of his work and the work of many others who stand with him. If you want to have a multifaceted understanding of the nature and impact of trauma personally and societally, or want someone to validate your thoughts on how widespread trauma is, this is the book.
Founded by David Bercelli, TRE (Trauma Tension Releasing Exercises) is a set of exercises that one can do to active the natural tremoring mechanism in the body/nervous system that can be used to discharge fight/flight/freeze energy. I personally use it as my go to when I experience severe distress. It has helped me over and over again. I have found the practice of tremoring so helpful that I decided to become a TRE provider in 2018. I recommend you find a provider and have them teach you this process so that you can have a practice you can do by yourself to directly work with healing your nervous system at this level.
This one was a game-changer. What if I told you that sadness, along with other emotions, don’t exist? They are simply concepts that we have made up through language and cultural agreement. However, they are real in the sense that we use these concepts to understand our experience and communicate, and thus impact our lives and how we regulate our nervous system. This book debunks the myth and popular notion that there is such a thing as universal basic emotions. Replacing that idea with a “Theory of Constructed Emotion”. Lisa Barett described so many new and interesting ways of looking at and understanding how our brains make emotions that I had to entirely rethink how I previously though healing work happened in the brain and nervous system. I found her theory of constructed emotion validating all of the circling and healing work I had done so far, and further pointing out deeper ways in which the work of inventing new cultures and communities is so important and powerful. A must read if you care at all about all the incredible new discoveries neuroscience is making.
Norman Doidge’s two books about Neuroplasticity were a blast to read. He describes various fascinating real life case studies that illuminate the new possibilities and the kind of healing that can be don as we understand how the brain is changed and molded through use. Pretty much all emotional and spiritual healing are done based on doing some kind of practice: meditation, movement, bodywork, trauma work, etc…and work because of the neuroplasticity of the brain. It helps to have some understanding of how neuroplasticity works and its amazing potential.
Norman Doidge’s second book about Neuroplasticity is more about various healing methods that have been developed that work because of neuroplasticity. As a bodyworker myself, I was fascinated by his descriptions of people who have used neuroplasticity to get themselves out of chronic pain or manage Parkinson’s. His description of Feldenkrais and Tomatis Method were of particular interest.
Another book about some fascinating neuroscience. This one focuses on the way the brain maps the body. This book is probably somewhat outdated compared to the others neuroscience books on this list. I include it here because it is the only book I have found that suggests a scientific view of how “energy healing” works because the brain maps the space around our bodies, and it is possible for us to merge these senses of space together. Unfortunately the author doesn’t seem to understand the depth of what is possible to heal using this phenomenon which I and many people have experienced first hand. Nonetheless important to understand if you want to have a non woo-woo explanation of how energy healing works.
I don’t have any children but find it fascinating to read books about parenting so that I can better understand the origins and psychology of many of the woundings and hurt younger parts that people carry around with them.
A fun book of parenting techniques that are based on an understanding of child brain development and attachment theory. The book is mainly about 5 or so parenting techniques and includes lots and lots of description and real stories of them being put into practice.
The book covers various activities/games/rhymes that can be used to educate a child about their body sensations and help them generate a sense of internal resource. The activities serve both as mindfulness education and pre-emptive trauma prevention. It also gives simple processes that adults can use to support children. It covers various situations that can traumatize children and specific recommendations as well as many may references to other books and resources. Some topics include: tripping and falling, physical injuries, medical trauma, sexual abuse, boundary setting, divorce, death of a pet, grief. I have some differences with the way the world “shame” is used and defined in the book, as well as the use of stages of grief which are not in alignment with the philosophy of grief that the grief recovery institute uses which the book bases its grief advice on.
I have continued to think about and use the distinctions and ideas that Mark Lewis lays out in this book over the past few years. Again and again many of the relationship issues I encounter and help people with come down to some of the distinctions he has pointed out to me. If you can, I would get ahold of his Creating Thriving Partnerships online course which is a more streamlined and organized version of this material. Mark lays out a new paradigm of looking at relationships that include a structured framework for creating agreements that helps us reach for the highest potential of synergy possible in a relationship.
Useful book on how to do the necessary emotional work to move on from your past relationships so you can be fully available for your next one. This book is by the Grief Recovery Institute which has another great book on recovering from grief in general (The Grief Recovery Handbook). The information about how grief and emotions work is solid. If you already understand how emotional healing works you may find some of it redundant. However, I think you will find their method very practical.
The classic book pioneering a way of communicating that reflects a more developed and complex internal reality about the cause and effect of our emotions. I was blown away by this book in college when I read about his ideas that all communication is either a request or a tragic expression of an unmet need. Most relational technologies that address communication are based in or borrowing from this philosophy, so very important to understand if you ever communicate with others human beings. Circling largely uses this philosophy to make its distinctions about what is and isn’t circling.
Probably the most accessible book on Robert Kegan’s Theory of Adult Development. I think the issue with all developmental models is that they turn into typologies the moment that someone who isn’t a trained evaluator tries to use them to evaluate themselves and others. With that caution, his theory is incredibly fascinating. It describes how the mind grows in complexity through adulthood, and how certain problems can’t be solved from specific stages due to a lack of capacity to take a complex view of the world. Very nerdy cool stuff that takes a lot of time to understand.
Robert Kegan’s notoriously difficult to read book about his theory. Like seriously dense and hard to read, but worth it if you really want to understand his thinking about the trajectory of human development.
Robert Kegan’s somewhat more easier to understand book to read about his theory. This book starts with an introduction where he talks about how some people who tried to read Evolving Self sent him complaint letters asking him to write in “English”. This book is more practical and has some good sections for people interested in relationship work. One section addresses ownership and explicitly stating one’s needs to others from a developmental point of view. It also has a section on organizational development. More nerdy stuff that takes a lot of time to understand.
This is a short paper about how at higher levels of adult development, people become self-aware of the inherent limitations of using language as a means to comprehend the world and communicate. Since relational work all uses words to communicate, I think it is very important to understand language’s limitations when it comes to communicating. I’ve enjoyed this paper each time I’ve re-read it. Go to her website > Resources > 4) Comprehensive Language Awareness.
This is based of of Wilhelm Reich’s work on character typing. I have gone in depth into this typology and find it incredibly useful to understand people’s developmental attachment issues, and practical to help them work through processing the relevant emotions that come up. The same typology is used in the Hakomi method and Barbara Brennan’s work, as well as at the Luminous Awareness Institute where I was trained to use the typology. Typically this typology is expanded into 7 types, this book just covers 5. This book is great because of how accessible and clear it is, which exercises to understand what it’s like to view the world from different types. It also includes important information about the general skills needed to do any healing work.
I haven’t gone as in depth into the Enneagram as deep as I would like, but I believe this is the book. If you’re new, I suggest you read through the general description of all of the typologies until you find the one that is most painful to read. That’s how I figured out my type (what type would post a book reading list online?).