The best books on the spiritual journey from different faith perspectives

Who am I?

After my father died when I was eleven years old, I started asking those deeper spiritual questions. This started me on a journey both personally and academically to find needed answers to my queries. I became fascinated with mystical experiences and how seekers navigated their way through the vicissitudes of the spiritual journey. With this interest as a focal point, I received a doctorate in theology, attended retreats, and received guidance from Sufi, Buddhist, and Christian teachers. I taught mysticism and world religions at Ithaca College and co-founded Light on the Hill Retreat Center in 1991, where I still guide people of any or no faith on their spiritual journeys.


I wrote...

Dance of Light: Christian, Sufi and Zen Wisdom for Today’s Spiritual Seeker

By Alice McDowell,

Book cover of Dance of Light: Christian, Sufi and Zen Wisdom for Today’s Spiritual Seeker

What is my book about?

McDowell writes about the spiritual life as a captivating dance. In a clear and compelling voice, she guides the reader through the steps of the dance as indicated by mystics of ancient traditions, contemporary spiritual teachers, and her own experiences. Dance of Light offers practical wisdom for today’s seeker. Whether beginner or advanced, readers will receive guidance on the dynamics of the spiritual path, learn how to further develop their inner life, and find ways to move forward when unmotivated, stuck, or lost. The teachings of the mystics will inspire readers to stay true to their calling. Instructive tales and humorous stories from each tradition add lightness and insight to the teachings. 

The books I picked & why

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The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment

By Roshi Philip Kapleau,

Book cover of The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice, and Enlightenment

Why this book?

In addition to Zen meditation instructions, this book contains numerous first-hand accounts of individual experiences during the quest for satori/enlightenment. Not only does the book show the variety of possible experiences on the journey but also how a guide can aid the seeker through the intricacies of the path. The supplemental section contains the Ten Oxherding Pictures which depict the stages of the spiritual journey. I used this set of pictures as one of the foundational structures for my book. Three Pillars is a compelling read with much Zen wisdom packed into its pages.


The Way of a Pilgrim: And the Pilgrim Continues His Way

By Helen Bacovcin (translator),

Book cover of The Way of a Pilgrim: And the Pilgrim Continues His Way

Why this book?

From the Russian Orthodox tradition comes the story of a man who loses his wife and all his possessions in a fire. He stops into a church one day and hears the words of St. Paul to pray unceasingly (I Thess 5:17). This sets him on a journey during which he discovers instruction on the repetition of the Jesus Prayer. I was captivated by the experiences he encounters, the people he meets, the challenges he overcomes, and the lessons he learns. The reader is introduced to the Philokalia—a collection of texts in the mystical Eastern Orthodox tradition, which offers instruction and guidance for monks practicing the contemplative life.


Memories of a Sufi Sage: Hazrat Inayat Khan

By Sirkar van Stolk, Daphne Dunlop,

Book cover of Memories of a Sufi Sage: Hazrat Inayat Khan

Why this book?

This engrossing and inspiring book portrays the author’s wondrous encounters with Sufi master, Hazrat Inayat Kahn, first as a beginning student and then as his assistant. He witnesses the experiences of this sage as he moves through the stages of illumination, dark night of the soul, and unitary consciousness. Interspersed throughout the book are the essential teachings of Sufism as taught by Inayat Khan, its message of love, harmony, and beauty, the Ten Sufi Thoughts, meditation, and the workings of the inner life. Memories of a Sufi Sage is a great introduction to Sufism and one of its great mystics. 


The Journey of Soul Initiation: A Field Guide for Visionaries, Evolutionaries, and Revolutionaries

By Bill Plotkin,

Book cover of The Journey of Soul Initiation: A Field Guide for Visionaries, Evolutionaries, and Revolutionaries

Why this book?

Representing modern Shamanism, Plotkin offers a descriptive model of five stages of The Journey of Soul Initiation based on the accounts of well-known seekers like Carl Jung and lesser-known individuals who attend the Animus Valley Institute. The latter group’s experiences occurred during treks into wild places, vision fasting, dream work, and active imagination. Plotkin illustrates each stage with extensive examples and unlike many other descriptions of inner processes, his account thoroughly addresses the difficulties and dangers of the journey. Using a very different induction process, Plotkin’s stages are striking similar to those models developed in classical Christian mysticism and the Ten Oxherding Pictures, which I use in my own book


The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment

By Adyashanti,

Book cover of The End of Your World: Uncensored Straight Talk on the Nature of Enlightenment

Why this book?

Although trained in Zen, Adyashanti has gone beyond any traditional perspective and is simply a seeker of truth. In his down-to-earth style, he teaches aspirants of all faiths and those who are spiritual but not religious. All of his books are excellent but I chose this one because it cogently and clearly explains the types of experiences, obstacles, and pitfalls more seasoned seekers encounter. These include the difference between abiding (or full) awakening and non-abiding (or intermittent) awakening, the disorientation that can occur after an awakening, the obstacles and pitfalls the seeker may face at this stage of the journey, and awakening in the head, heart, and gut. The End of Your World is an excellent and unique guide for those experiencing the more advanced stages of the journey.


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