The best books for godless heathens seeking spiritual enlightenment

Maren Showkeir Author Of Yoga Wisdom at Work: Finding Sanity Off the Mat and On the Job
By Maren Showkeir

Who am I?

Like many people who consciously decided to leave the constrictive religion to which they were randomly born (and raised), I see retrospectively that the decision was an essential act of self-preservation and self-actualization. I abandoned the transactional relationship with a Judging God, including its barter of mindless obedience in exchange for a heavenly eternity after death. In doing so, I discovered my true soul. Through “godless” practices and continual seeking, I have discovered a profound, meaningful spirituality. The books on this list are among so many that have expanded my thinking and helped me become, I hope, a better human along the way. It is my pleasure to recommend them to you.

I wrote...

Yoga Wisdom at Work: Finding Sanity Off the Mat and On the Job

By Maren Showkeir, Jamie Showkeir,

Book cover of Yoga Wisdom at Work: Finding Sanity Off the Mat and On the Job

What is my book about?

The physical practice of yoga is familiar to most people—a cat-cow stretch, a downward-facing dog, the majestic Warrior Pose. Yet too many people don’t realize that the physical practice is only a fraction of the secret code that unleashes the transformational powers of yoga. If you dig deeper, you’ll discover that yoga’s simple, yet rich philosophy contains profound insights for confronting the complexities of life.

This ancient wisdom, contained in the “Eight Limbs of Yoga,” offers those in the modern world ways to stay centered, compassionate, calm, and content, even in chaotic circumstances. In this book, the authors filter yoga philosophy through the lens of work to illustrate how to stay positive, productive, creative, and energized no matter what you do or where you work.

The books I picked & why

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The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have

By Mark Nepo,

Book cover of The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have

Why this book?

I received The Book of Awakening in 2015 after my husband, Jamie, died of ALS. It collected dust on my bookshelf for far too long. Once I finally cracked it, I made up for lost time by returning time and again to this beautiful, inspiring collection of deeply personal essays — one for each day of the year. Among other things, Nepo is a poet, a teacher, and a cancer survivor. He brings his considerable literary skill to telling moving, high-impact stories about what really matters in life, along with sprinklings of wisdom from a variety of ancient traditions. God isn’t referenced as the Big White Guy in the Sky who’s pulling the strings, but rather as a beautiful, ineffable presence that connects the divine light in each individual. 

The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself

By Michael A. Singer,

Book cover of The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself

Why this book?

This book is about “inner space” and the ways people can find freedom and peace through cultivating connection to consciousness, presence, and something more mystical. Singer had me nearly from the beginning, with a vivid dissection of the voice in my head and its effortless, chattering (and usually mindless) internal conversation that is never-ending. Singer, a devout meditator for decades, asks provocative questions that kept me ruminating for a long time: “If so much of what [the mind’s] voice says is meaningless and unnecessary, why does it exist?” That question made me wonder: Who is listening to this voluble narrator? Is it me? Or an “observer” who isn’t really me? His contention that the many concepts of God having “all been touched by people” was like ingesting a big, warm gulp of Truth tea. 

Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way

By Ursula K. Le Guin,

Book cover of Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching: A Book about the Way and the Power of the Way

Why this book?

This comprehensive, beautiful “rendition” (in Le Guin’s words) of Lao Tzu’s ancient wisdom packs an elegant spiritual punch, especially for the Western mind. I love that Le Guin was a teenager when she began studying her father’s 1898 version of the Tao. She worked for decades to create a version that would break the work’s enduring gaze toward the male-oriented “sage.” As she writes in the introduction: “I wanted a Book of the Way accessible to a present-day, unwise, unpowerful, and perhaps unmale reader, not seeking esoteric secrets, but listening for a voice that speaks to the soul.” Her commentary is illuminating, as though a strong gust of rain-washed air blew off the old dust, allowing sharper, fresher meanings to emerge. Check out Number 53. It’s good for a chuckle!

The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

By Eckhart Tolle,

Book cover of The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

Why this book?

The central theme in Tolle’s book, which quickly became a modern classic, can be daunting to wrap your head around: Now is the only thing that exists. This simple statement is counterintuitive and a contradiction to the way people tend to navigate their lives. Humans often dwell in the past and pine for a (usually) different future, which can only ever exist in the imagination. Tolle’s message transcends traditional views of spirituality (and even more so, religion) by insisting that the only way to find peace and transcendence is to shed ego and make Now one’s motivating focus. If there is only now, what is the point of working for— and often suffering for—the future, especially a nebulous, unguaranteed afterlife? Despite its spiritual nutrition, Tolle’s prose can be chewy and hard to digest. Keep chewing, it is spiritual sustenance. 

The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

By Sam Harris,

Book cover of The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason

Why this book?

I dithered ferociously about including this title, because Harris’s tone can be off-putting and because he uses sexist language — just like the scriptures do! He should know better. Even so, I loved this book for its science-based arguments that skewer organized religion, and for his articulation of vague questions that had been tumbling in my mind without coming into focus enough to ask them. A few big takeaways for me: The “sacred” texts embraced by major world religions can, and are, used to defend almost any atrocity toward other humans. Harris also makes what should be an obvious point about the oft-touted benefits of religion: Universal love, good works, community, teaching values, etc. can be achieved without dogma or belief in a Supreme Deity. Finally, Harris allows for and honors the “mystical,” connecting human experiences that cannot (yet) be explained by science.

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