Oct 10 2011

Books: Exploring Spiritual Traditions

Published by at 8:01 am under Books,Ivan's Story

This past weekend we got our first real taste of Autumn — brisk, gusty winds, rain-splashed pavement. Good days for well-bundled walks, then a return home for a cup of tea, with a four-legged friend curled at your feet… and, of course, a good book open in your lap.

For your cozy weather reading, I thought I’d update and resend the following note. I hope it inspires some good exploration and deepening insight…


Where did my interest in the world’s spiritual traditions come from? Which religious tradition was I raised in? I’m asked these questions all the time.

A bit of background about myself…

I was raised by single mother, an ex-Catholic hippie turned social worker and secret New Ager who told me I should choose my own religion when I was old enough, but who also couldn’t hide her distaste for most organized religion.

By college age, I had a strong interior life and my own motley spiritual practice, but virtually no understanding of what most people call “religion.” While formally studying history and biology, I started sneaking into Bible as Literature classes — that was when I read the Bible for the first time.

At eighteen, I became a voracious reader on religion and spirituality in my spare time, often jumping right to the source material without any context. I read the Quran. I read the Bhagavad Gita and Buddhist texts. I read books on shamanism. I was fascinated and lost amidst everything.

Those were dazzling, bumpy years of searching.

You know what would have saved me a lot of confusion? Discovering the following books. Each of these books is a good, highly readable introduction to the deeper spiritual dimensions of a particular religious tradition. Check them out…

Christian Mystics: Their Lives and Legacies throughout the Ages
by Ursula King

Highly recommended if you want a brief survey of important visionaries and trends within the sometimes hidden history of Christian mysticism. Francis of Assisi, Hildegard von Bingen, the Beguines, Meister Eckhart, Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Brother Lawrence, Jacob Boehme, Symeon the New Theologian, and many others. The author of this book has done a nice job of balancing history with spirituality. This little book makes an excellent introduction to the depths of the Christian tradition that are too often overlooked in favor of creeds and rites. Even if you were raised within the Christian tradition, my guess is that much of your own spiritual history was not handed down to you. Here is a good place to start to regain that connection.

The Shambhala Guide to Sufism
by Carl W. Ernst PhD

I am currently re-reading this book. It as an intelligent, insightful look at the history, practices, philosophies, schools, and even politics of Sufism. It doesn’t get deeply into the more esoteric aspects of the Sufi world, but it gives a good overview. If you’ve loved the poetry of Rumi but only have a vague idea of how Sufism fits within the Islamic faith, this book is an excellent place to start.

The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice
by Georg Feuerstein

Unlike the other two books, which are relatively brief introductions to their subjects, The Yoga Tradition is truly encyclopedic. Dubbed “The Blue Phonebook” for its size and color, The Yoga Tradition completely dispells the misconception many have that yoga is just an elaborate form of stretching. It introduces us to ancient and modern yogic philosophies and practices. The many expressions of Hindu yoga, Jain yoga, Buddhist yoga, Sikh yoga, saints, philosophers, and reformers… This book helps us to get oriented amidst thousands of years of complex history with a surprisingly readable, coherent approach. Very highly recommended.

For even more book recommendations, click here.

I hope these books inspire some good exploration (minus the bumps)…


15 responses so far

15 Responses to “Books: Exploring Spiritual Traditions”

  1. lillyon 10 Oct 2011 at 8:54 am

    thank you so much for allowing us into your life. and thank you very much for the recommended reading, ivan.

    i do not write often but i always read your email poetry! i so enjoy it and thank you for the time used to prepare your mailings!

  2. Krystyna Rawiczon 10 Oct 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I remember reading your previous email on this, Ivan. It strikes me that all that unstructured, all over the place reading, whilst not especially “efficient”, was enormously effective in giving you what appears to be a very wide view of spirituality and this strange world we live in….

  3. Mary Joon 10 Oct 2011 at 1:02 pm

    Thank you, Ivan. I always like to read what books influenced people and to get new book recommendations…I’ll check the library on the ones you mentioned. It was a nice synthesis–

    Mary Jo

  4. Rachelon 10 Oct 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Awesome! I was raised by an Atheist Mother and an ex-Catholic Hippie father who also could not hide his distaste for most organized religion. In my younger days I guess I didn’t fit in or wasn’t “allowed” to be religious or spiritual because of my upbringing (although my parents gave me a similar answer to my questions about God… choose on your own when you’re older) they never really educated me about ANY religion. As a young adult I began to get curious about spirituality, but it wasn’t until I hit my 30’s that I REALLY started exploring. Spirituality is a HUGE part of my life now even though I don’t feel I fit into any particular group. There are so many parts of so many traditions that I love! That’s why I love your site so much! All the most inspired writings from all the different traditions of the world!

  5. Rachelon 10 Oct 2011 at 1:07 pm

    PS, look forward to reading your selections. 🙂

  6. Gwynnon 10 Oct 2011 at 1:13 pm

    Ivan, you do so remind me of my brother as he was Christian Scientist, belonged to Rev. Moon’s group for a very short period of time, joined the Bahgwan’s group, and then became a Buddhist monk and traveled to India with the Lama and the Dalai Lama for three months. Then the Gulf War was on and the sentiment against Americans was horrific so they disguised my red haired, blue-eyed brother as a Nigerian by dyeing his hair and skin and hid him out in Katmandu until they could smuggle him home.

    My brother jumped into all of the world’s religions one time or another with both feet, no pussy footing around for him. The biggest hurdle was that my brother was Gay and not one of the world’s religions would accept him for who he was. He should have been looking for inner peace from within.

    I worship from afar without getting tangled in the web man has created. I wish you luck in your search.

  7. Br Graham-Michoelon 10 Oct 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Thank you again for sharing your thoughts with us. The books you recommend are indeed very helpful. May I share with everyone: the recent writings of the Dalai Lama on Jesus are deeply insightful and very uplifting.
    Blessings on you work Ivan – it is a great joy to share.

  8. Sagewalkeron 10 Oct 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Thank you for these resources. If you are interested, you might want to visit http://www.pathwork.org. These are amazing teachings! Check out any of the lectures that draw you. From what you have been reading, I imagine you will find them resonant with your quest. Blessings, Sagewalker

  9. jagwanton 10 Oct 2011 at 11:03 pm

    Thank you Ivan, for sharing.

  10. Gillon 11 Oct 2011 at 4:58 am

    I was surprised you did not include in your list of books anything by Guruji, Sri Vasudeva founder of the Blue Star. Org. in Trinidad. It would have been good while not denegrating your list as is.

  11. Sueon 11 Oct 2011 at 6:16 am

    Perfect timing! I had just asked God (I mean REALLY asked…) how I could explore Christian Mysticism more deeply. Book order placed…

  12. Barbon 11 Oct 2011 at 7:29 am

    I appreciate the book list. Let the reading begin! I would add the writings of Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati for clear understanding of prana, mantra, yantra, and meditation. I am a non-dualisit and I do not know of any books that clearly explain that philosophy.

    Thank you for sharing bits of your own journey. Blessings, Barb

  13. Saraon 11 Oct 2011 at 10:04 am

    Hi Mr. Ivan,I have always wanted to say tanx for your beautiful Emails you don’t know us but you are so alive in our lives 🙂

  14. Michaelaon 12 Oct 2011 at 1:48 am

    Thank you so much for the work that you do. I love reading the poems you choose. I always find them uplifting and thought-provoking. Then I read your thoughts below and find even more enlightenment in your analysis! Thank you so much for adding this spiritual insight to our days 🙂 I am wondering, have you read the Book of Mormon? I believe it is a genuine book of scripture, written by prophets of God on the American continent before, during, and after Christ’s time, which testify of him. I know you would find it an amazing peice of literature and gain further spiritual knowledge in it’s pages. Give it a shot! (It may change your life 😉

  15. Letitiaon 17 Oct 2011 at 10:05 pm

    Dear Ivan, after a cursory but thoroughly enjoyable glimpse at your list, I think Elisabeth Haich’s INITIATION (which was my biggest awakening, along with “Science of Mind” by Ernest Holmes, after a very Catholic upbringing) ought to be on your list if it is not already! Blessings and Thanks, Letitia

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