11 Books To Help You Find Some Inner Peace When The World Stresses You Out
In case you haven’t noticed, the vibes ‘round the world haven’t been all warmth and fuzziness lately. Sure, there’s something hopeful about the fact that in times of great distress communities come together, strangers become friends, and most people — at least for a little while — become a little more mindful about how they’re impacting others and the world. But still, at some point the nightly news headlines and scrolling Tweets can begin to stress out anyone’s spirit — and that’s why you need these books to help you find inner peace, when the world seems a tad sadder and messier than we’d like it to be. (And by “tad” I mean: a lot.)
Books have always been the ultimate safe space for me — and not just because there are so many great books about peace and nonviolence. I think it’s partly because reading a book, unlike a headline or a news brief, can give you space to sit with a story, explore it from all angles, and sort out your own feelings about it without constant bombardment from the outside world. Plus, there are plenty of books designed to help you cultivate your own inner sanctuary, even when everything going around you seems especially frenzied and fever pitch.
Here are 12 books that will help you zen out, find your inner safe space, and return to the world and even stronger, more compassionate you. Namaste, readers.
1. The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb
This novel is all about the power art, food, and community have in cultivating peace in an otherwise tumultuous landscape. Set in Vietnam over the course of several generations, The Beauty of Humanity Movement zeroes in on three characters — the aging Hung, who allowed artists (dubbed the “Beauty of Humanity movement”) to gather illegally in his restaurant during some of the worst days in Vietnam’s history; Tu, the grandson of one of the founders of that artist’s collective, who is conflicted about his job showing tourists a watered-down version of Vietnam; and Maggie, a Vietnamese-American searching for the legacy of her father, who may have been a part of the Movement as well.
2. Be Here Now by Ram Dass
Accompany Ram Dass on his trippy journey of personal and spiritual transformation, in this kaleidoscopic book that can literally be read forwards, backwards, inside out, and upside down. Be Here Now is all about disconnecting from the mindlessness of the daily grind and reconnecting with your highest, most authentic self. Plus, it’s filled with thinking prompts that might even lead you on a transformational journey of your own (for a few minutes, anyway.) And try to resist the urge to color in all the mandalas, OK? Save that for your adult coloring books.
3. And Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
The title of this book-length poem alone makes you feel just a little more resilient, doesn’t it? Maya Angelou writes in her signature quiet storm of a style, about the unrelenting strength of the human spirit, the dignity that can be maintained even while faced with the harshest of obstacles, and the courage it takes to constantly rise up. And Still I Rise will seriously restore any faith you may have lost in humanity lately. Plus, Maya Angelou is just a really comforting spirit.
4. The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace anthologized by Howard Zinn
I’m obsessed with anything Howard Zinn puts his name on — not only does he explore history from largely unrepresented angles, but his books, essay collections, and anthologies always read like little tomes of empowerment, good deeds, and the bravery to step outside the norm in order to do what is right. The Power of Nonviolence is no different, filled with essays and stories about humanity’s alternatives to war, violence, and destruction, and why nonviolence should be considered a first option in many instances, instead of our last (or never) choice.
5. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
There’s something I find super peaceful about this novel — which might sound strange, considering the first 200-plus pages are about a shipwrecked boy stranded in a lifeboat with an angry tiger. But what Life of Pi is really about, beneath the surface, is one young man’s struggle with himself, his own strength, and the difficult decisions he feels forced to make in order to survive an impossible situation. The story Pi tells himself about his experiences, and the presence of mind he had to exercise in order to survive his ordeal in the first place, are just really inspiring.
6. Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
Even if you’re not a young poet, I think this book will speak to anyone working to navigate what’s going on in the world with the conversations you have in the privacy of your own heart and mind. Transcending far beyond the process of actually writing poetry, Letters to a Young Poet is really about discovering oneself, finding one’s place in the world, and coming to peace with all of life’s unanswered questions.
7. The Book of Questions by Pablo Neruda
Now that you’ve made peace with all those unanswered questions, you’re ready to ask yourself some more. And Pablo Neruda has them for you, in spades. Containing poetic responses to 316 unanswerable questions, The Book of Questions will take you on a poetic journey through the course of a single lifetime — from childhood through adulthood — exploring all inquiries that arise throughout a life, and examining the peace of mind it takes to let go of the answers you simply aren’t meant to have.
8. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Martin Luther King Jr.
Few people are better known for standing peacefully in the face of danger, violence, and hatred than Martin Luther King Jr., and his autobiography is a testament to that spirit. Compiled from King’s previously unpublished journals, as well as from the activist’s interviews, audio recordings, and letters, The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. tells the story of a man of great faith and dignity, who in private was exactly the person he portrayed himself to be publicly, and who led by example, living in the way he hoped others would learn to as well.
9. Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Another book about creativity that acts as a guide for a whole lot more than the writing process, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear is all about learning to listen to and follow your own deepest inspirations, down the path of becoming the greatest and most authentic version of yourself. Exploring everything from letting go of jealousy and competition, to redefining your own understanding of what it means to be successful, this book is a little cheer of “yes!” in a world that likes to say “no” a whole lot.
10. Cultures of Peace: The Hidden Side of History by Elise Boulding
We’ve all heard those about remote island cultures who have lived peaceful, loving, vegan lives for thousands upon thousands of years, untouched by any of the harsh influences of globalization or modern civilization (book me on the next flight, please.) Less frequently do we learn about the history of peace as it relates to those of us living in the globalized world — true instances when the peaceful path really did succeed against all odds, and how those stories can help inform the way we live now.
11. Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
So, you don’t really feel like changing the entire world today — it does seem a pretty unmanageable task, so I totally get where you’re coming from. But you still want to do something to make a difference, you just don’t know what. Believe it or not, you can start right where you are, by cultivating peace within yourself—literally through every step you take. Choosing not to engage in road rage, or decided not to quibble with your roommate over whose turn it is to take out the trash — again — might seem like small things, but by changing the energy of your own life, you really can begin to change the energy of the whole world. This book explains why.
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