The best books to help you find your true self

Who am I?

That’s the eternal question, isn’t it? Out here in the manifestation, I am Duff McDonald, author and journalist, father of Marguerite, husband of Joey, and general man about town. I’m a Canadian who moved to the U.S. to go to college and never went back. But who am I, really? I am the same thing as everyone else, a speck of consciousness in the possibility machine, a perfect creation. This whole thing has divine origins, something I only realized not that long ago, and it set me free. I can’t wait to see what happens next. I have, of late, discovered that maximizing one’s awareness is the main quest of a human life.


I wrote...

Tickled: A Commonsense Guide to the Present Moment

By Duff McDonald,

Book cover of Tickled: A Commonsense Guide to the Present Moment

What is my book about?

Tickled is about presence, pure and simple. In early quarantine, I had a revelation: There is nothing but now. What’s the best way to know that you are here and now? By feeling that tickle, the thing that tells you that you are alive and that you are doing it right. For the bulk of my career, I wrote about other people and their failings (according to me). I lectured the world on its behavior, and chastised people I didn't know for thinking things I couldn't possibly know they were thinking. And then, suddenly, it all disappeared. Tickled is the story of how I found my way to now, where everything happens. It’s a thank you note to existence, and to my wife and daughter, who showed me the way. 

The books I picked & why

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I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

By Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj,

Book cover of I Am That: Talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj

Why this book?

I don’t like rankings — I think we count and rank to our collective detriment – but if I had to make a list of the most important books I’ve ever read, this would probably be on top of the list. What is it about? It’s about finding your true self. On the one hand, the task couldn’t be simpler: You are what you are, so there’s hardly a Hardy Boys mystery to crack here. On the other, we cloud our own understanding with so much illusion that few of us have the capacity to see the truth about ourselves. Maharaj can be a bit prickly, but he’s more love than anything else. If you try this book and you can’t connect to it, put it down and return to it later. That’s what I did – the first time, it was impenetrable; the second time, it penetrated to the heart of me.


The Life Divine

By Sri Aurobindo,

Book cover of The Life Divine

Why this book?

Sri Aurobindo is, in my opinion, the greatest writer of them all. His poetic prose hypnotizes while swirling around the most profound ideas of all — What is the divine? How can we know the truth? What is the best way to live? The Life Divine is Aurobindo’s magnum opus, his articulation of the path to self-realization and how to use it to make the world a better place. In other words, it’s everything you need to know.


From the Finite to the Infinite

By Swami Muktananda,

Book cover of From the Finite to the Infinite

Why this book?

Baba Muktananda is surely the most entertaining – dare I say, “cool” — of all the great gurus. This book, a collection of Satsang, or Q&A sessions, with the Siddha Yoga Guru, is a very easy-going, unpretentious discussion of the most important things about finding yourself. As the title promises, you are not a finite being; you are infinite. It’s very convincing.


The Yoga of Discipline

By Gurumayi Chidvilasananda,

Book cover of The Yoga of Discipline

Why this book?

I don’t think that I am different from the majority when I say that for most of my life, the idea of “discipline” wasn’t that attractive to me. I wanted freedom. But in this book, as well as all her other books, the Siddha meditation master Gurumayi Chidvilasnanada convinced me that the means to a perfect existence must come through discipline. You cannot find yourself if you do not first sort yourself out. The goal isn’t recklessness; it’s improvisation within defined constraints. That’s where the magic happens. Gurumayi is one of the clearest thinkers and writers that I have ever come across. More importantly, everything she writes is infused with love.


The Bhagavad Gita

By Eknath Easwaran, Vyasa,

Book cover of The Bhagavad Gita

Why this book?

The Bhagavad Gītā is one of India’s most revered spiritual books for good reason: It contains everything you need to know. A dialogue between the warrior, Arjuna, and his chariot driver, Krishna — who also happens to be an incarnation of the divine — it’s a gripping drama, an instruction manual for life, and one of the most concise articulations of the search for higher meaning that’s ever been written. For English speakers, I recommend the translation and commentary by Eknath Easwaran, which goes down easy.


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