I disagree with 9 out of 10 of the life-lessons I was taught in my formative years. I was raised in a fundamental, biblical literalist, born-again Christian household by a single mother. I was an only child and I was an only daughter, which led to my mom enforcing a very specific set of values which were designed to make me fear the world and protect myself from it. Re-calibrating my worldview and my beliefs and my place in the world and my place in my own life has become one of my very favorite things to do with my time, as well as one of the most time consuming. Therapy has helped me do it, connecting to a very supportive and wise spiritual community has helped me do it, and reading books written by experts in their fields of study has helped me do it and when I think about the vast difference between the girl my mom raised and the woman I am now, I feel a strong desire to share the knowledge I’ve found that has helped me grow the fuck up, because for a long time I didn’t believe I could feel better. Here are 6 books that have completely restructured what being alive feels like in good ways and have brought me peace and clarity and have made life more livable:

Loving What Is by Byron Katie

This is perhaps the most challenging book I’ve ever read and therefore, the most transformative because it completely reframes your circumstances in a way that puts the onus of all of your experiences back on you. It can be tough to swallow at times, because she offers no exception to her outlook, which is basically that your problems exist because you view them as problems. The most challenging aspect of Katie’s theory is that all human suffering comes from a desire or an attempt to change reality. It’s a book about radical acceptance, which, for an activist and a person literally addicted to manifesting constant change, was a really hard concept to swallow completely, but I was eventually able to move past my initial pushback of her method with my extreme-case examples that would dismantle it which sounded like, “Oh we’re just supposed to ACCEPT the fact that people are being raped and murdered and that children are being abused and that corruption permeates every facet of our lives? YOU WANT ME TO CHILL OUT AND BE COOL WITH EVIL PERSISTING? I WON’T LET THE BAD GUYS WIN!” and once I got that reaction out of my system, I was able to apply her methods in ways that could actually help me. That is, I was able to apply them to personal, emotional situations that affected me internally on a daily basis, rather than to the giant, distressing problems of the world, at large. Her method is a complete mind-fuck in that it challenges you to turn all of your expectations of other people’s actions back onto yourself. She offers an exercise called “The Work” and includes an actual worksheet which you are asked to use when you’re really angry at someone for doing or not doing something you think they should do. She asks you to write down your expectations of the other person and your reason for believing that things would be better if they did what you think they should do, then she challenges you to ask yourself if your assertion of the better reality is actually without-a-doubt true, and then she has you “turn it around” and identify the areas where you, the only variable that you can actually control, should be doing what you think the other person should be doing, instead. Example: a mother is furious that her son never picks his dirty socks up off the floor. Katie’s take is that since her son is unbothered by his socks being on the floor, it is not a problem for him. Leaving the socks on the floor actually makes him feel better than picking them up, therefore, theoretically, the problem exists within the mother, alone. The solution, Katie says, is that if it would please her to pick up the socks and see a clean floor, she must pick up the socks and get the feeling that she’s after on her own, instead of trying to change or control how her son feels about the socks. I can feel mothers the world over screaming about how dangerous this mindset it, but I love it. I think it’s challenging and fair in the right ways. Katie reframes dozens of scenarios that cause people a lot of emotional difficulty and a lot of them are very controversial, but I was consistently blown away by the reminder of how powerful perception is as well as how powerful a shift in perception can be, once you apply it. It taught me that we really do naturally create suffering for ourselves. I can honestly say that I view every single one of my personal circumstances differently now than I did before reading it and that I am in less emotional pain day to day as a result and more in tune with my personal power. I do want to include a disclaimer though, there’s a very difficult section about molestation that I found very impossible to stomach and I worried that people who are victims of those circumstances could be extremely triggered by what she said. So I’ll say, I’m not so sure about all of that stuff, and you can skip that part if you need to.

Ask And It Is Given by Esther and Jerry Hicks

This book is about Law of Attraction, which is one of the belief systems I heavily fuck with since leaving Christianity. It’s essentially the opposite of Christianity in that every individual is empowered as the god of their own life. This book is very deliberate and it believes in the power of what it’s preaching without wavering even slightly; just know that going in, and it’s practical when it comes to being deliberate about what you want and creating it for yourself. There is a specific method about focusing on a desire for 17 seconds which creates a new vibration in your body and then that vibration attracts more thoughts that match it and the more and more positive thoughts you build around the desire, the quicker it becomes a reality in your life. A lot of the methods taught are Practicality Masquerading As Spirituality, really, and I interpreted most of it as lessons in the power of focus and deliberation and how thoughts lead to action eventually, especially if you spend time creating exactly what you want with your mind before you start to act on it. It reminds you that the world, the planet, the universe are so much bigger than you can come close to comprehending, and that they are unknowable and powerful and that you are an extension of the planet and that you too have unknowable power that you haven’t tapped into yet and will never fully comprehend. It’s a great book for feeling empowered and in control in the midst of what feels like chaos. Warning: it’s also radical in that it really does put the onus on you for the things that are happening in your life. Take from it what you need to take from it and if you have a hard time being like, “Okay I asked for that car accident with my rampant negativity and presumption that things will continue to get worse for me.” then, I wouldn’t say don’t read it, but know that when you are reading it, you are entertaining these ideas as one possible theory that you get to wholly or partially reject if you want or need to. There’s a lot of good stuff to take from it that’s been really helpful, for me.

Biocentrism by Robert Lanza

My friend Rose lent me this book and I read each page with widened eyes that stayed widened for hours after each chapter. This book could be a quick read at 197 pages, but I had to put it down after every chapter to let the information sink in for about a week at a time, every time, because it butts up against logic and your perception of reality in every possible way and proves that there is no such thing as reality because individual, subjective consciousness varies from person to person. We all live in entirely different universes, heavily impacted and therefore, created, by our perceptions. It effectively answers the, “If a tree falls in the forest, does it really make a sound?” question and I’ll just tell you, for the purpose of encouraging you to read this book by sharing a meaningful excerpt, that the answer is no, it does not make a sound. Sound requires two elements: the sound waves made by the fallen tree and ears to accept, interpret and process the sound. If there are no ears around to process the sound, there are only unprocessed waves that do not equal sound on their own. Perception, or “reality” is a relationship between the object or action that exists and the person or animal that is observing it. Without an observer, the object or action is incomplete and cannot be said to actually exist. There’s a whole chapter about your kitchen theoretically disappearing when you close your eyes to sleep because half of the equation of reality is missing. Just read it, if you want to question everything you thought you knew about everything and then feel smarter.

The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer

My aunt Terri gave me this book and it impacted me because it opened my eyes to what was going on inside of me without my awareness, why it was going on, and how to have a better grasp of what was going on. It’s based on Buddhist principles of -detachment in order to eliminate suffering- but it’s very adept at putting those ideas into realistic and applicable terms. There’s a chapter about Your Internal Roommate that asks you to externalize your inner voice and personify it and listen to it as though it were a real person in your life that was saying the shit that you say to yourself that is eye openingin a terrifying way, to be honest. And there are some really helpful tools in there about understanding and accepting difficult emotions as part of the human experience for everyone which helps you to step back and observe what is going on inside of you in an objective way, rather than being subjected to drowning in your ~feelings~ and feeling too helpless to pull yourself out of the waves. It’s like a very helpful expansion of something my very wise and spiritual friend/mentor Miriam once said to me about experiencing difficult emotions. She used fear as an example and she said when she feels afraid, she labels and observes the emotion, like this, “Oh okay, I see that I am experiencing fear right now. Interesting. This is what fear, the very typical human emotion that everyone feels for myriad reasons! feels like. Wow. Look at that. Fear!” This was revolutionary for me because it reminded me that I am always having a human experience, as we all are, and we are all united in our experiences of difficult emotions because they are happening to everyone, this is what being alive is. It didn’t eliminate fear, but it eliminated the guilt, shame and resistance to fear. It taught me to make room for fear when it shows up and to just observe it, as if I’m doing a social experiment, and that really spoke to me as both a lover of social experiments and a person continually fascinated by trying to understand what the fuck the human experience is all about. It’s a great book for learning how to better understand what’s going on inside of you and to learn how to trivialize it. I should probably take this opportunity to tell you that I once watched hours of gruesome war footage in an attempt to put my romantic heartbreak into perspective, so I am a prime candidate for applying new ways to trivialize difficult experiences for the purpose of coping with this life.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

I have not read Elizabeth Gilbert’s novels but after watching her Ted Talk on “creative genius,” I became devoted to her real life advice. Big Magic is full of incredible insight on creativity, why we must create, and how to feel better about creating for the sake of it and she’s just really phenomenal at resetting some unhelpful mindsets that stop us from using our talents and our voices. Here, read her take on perfectionism, which hit me hard enough to post it as a quote on tumblr a year ago and it still gets reblogged every few days so girl you knowwwww that shit is good:

“But I see it differently. I think perfectionism is just high-end, haute couture version of fear. I think perfectionism is just fear in fancy shoes and a mink coat, pretending to be elegant when actually it’s just terrified. Because underneath that shiny veneer, perfectionism is nothing more than a deep existential angst that says, again and again, “I am not good enough and I will never be good enough.”

It’s a book that made me say WOW out loud more than a few times. She’s got such a beautiful, logical, helpful brain. She also likens your creative energy to a Border Collie that’s going to tear up the couch if you don’t give it something productive to do; if you don’t give the Collie in your head a job to do, it’s job naturally becomes TO DESTROY EVERYTHING out of boredom and aimlessness, so, if you don’t want to spend a bunch of energy destroyingeverything, you’d better spend your energy on creating things, instead. It made me feel good and inspired and full and happy to be alive so if those are things you like to feel, read it.

Feeling Good Together by David D. Burns

This is another book that my aunt Terri recommended to me after I complained about the arguments my ex-boyfriend and I frequently found ourselves in and honestly, I wish it was required reading for every person across the globe, by law. It illuminated the fact that NONE OF US know how to effectively communicate with one another. I don’t care if you think you don’t turn into a monster, if you’re triggered in the right way, you do. It’s the crash course on Effective Communication that we all should have been given in school. It’s helpful if you and a friend or you and a partner read it together, but it also helps you communicate effectively with someone who has never been alerted to the stuff they’re doing to make disagreements harder. The tools it provides are truly unbelievable and will alert you to the fact that you’ve been doing it all WAY WRONG for SO LONG but it’s okay, because it helps you do it better from here on out. It uses real examples of real arguments and asks the reader to identify where one partner went wrong and how and what they could have said or done instead and, just like Byron Katie’s “The Work,” it provides an actual worksheet to fill out during or after an argument that helps you understand what you’re doing wrong, you dope, and exactly how to do it better. Before you think that it’s unrealistic to do a worksheet during an argument, I want to tell you that I’ve done it and it worked. I told my boyfriend, the one I was always arguing with, that I was reading this amazing book about communication and I was learning so many things about how I communicate ineffectively and I told him about the worksheet that helps people solve problems and that I wanted to try using it to see if it helped us the next time we fought. The trick was bringing it up when we weren’t fighting and preparing him for it. Preparation for a shift in behavior is key if you’re going to eventually be successful in shifting the behavior; I learned that from teaching students with severe behavioral challenges. I actually learned a lot about adult communication from teaching students with severe behavioral challenges because we all have severe behavioral challenges, in a few areas. It’s helpful to admit that. So, during our next argument, I was like, “Okay, I’m gonna go get that book and we’re gonna learn something right now because we’re not hearing each other” and I DID and we both sat on opposite ends of the same couch and filled out a WORKSHEET and the mere fact that we were both willing to do that to learn how to exist together better was gratifying enough, but selfishly, my favorite moment was when he got to question number 2 and then said aloud, “Oh. Okay, I see what I did now.” My eyes got wide as they did during my Biocentrism-reading days. It helped me admit that I was wrong an awful lot too and seriously YOU GUYS IT’S SO HELPFUL. READ IT AND YOU’LL STOP FIGHTING SO MUCH AND YOU’LL SEE CONFRONTATIONS IN A NEW WAY, I PROMISE.

A Happy Pocket Full of Money by David Cameron Gikandi

This book has a ridiculous title and a ridiculous cover and I beg you to ignore both of those truths. Just close your eyes and they don’t exist! (Another callback to Biocentrism for you, what a thrill) This book breaks down your relationship with money in terms quantum physics. The concepts are all unknowably huge, but the best way I can summarize them is to tell you that quantum physics aligns perfectly with Law of Attraction and this book asserts that since it was people who imbued money with value, money is merely a representation of the value people placed on it and then doled out as we saw fit. It asserts that there is no lack, because money is everywhere and isn’t actually worth anything anymore, and is really only good for what “we” say it’s good for. It’s a representation, so if we are personally experiencing a shortage of money, it’s because we are unsure of our own value and as soon as we grapple with that and heal that, money will follow. Gikandi gives you tools for strengthening your personal relationship with money and also provides an insane view of experiences and time and your future by reminding us that time isn’t linear and that we all exist in a vortex of our own creation. Basically, if we dream it and desire it, it’s because it’s part of our experience, already. It’s up there, on our path, we just may not have experienced it yet. He uses a metaphorical tool to illustrate this: all the experiences in our lives exist across a flat, white sheet of paper. All experiences exist now, simultaneously, it’s just that we’re walking across the paper at our own speed, so we will walk through each experience one by one or two by two, but they’re all there, waiting for us to reach them. If we’ve dreamed it and we’ve really truly desired it, it’s because it is already a part of our experience in a way we can sense, but do not yet understand, simply because we haven’t reached that point on the paper yet. This is a book that offers relief and is grounded in scientific concepts so you don’t have to feel foolish for taking the relief that it offers you. Maybe you’ll still feel foolish for taking the relief that it offers you because of the way it’s rife with affirmations and positivity, but I guess I’d personally rather feel a little foolish than: lost and confused and miserable and foggy-headed and powerless.

There is just one more thing I want to say which is: Like this list of books and the buffets that my dad frequents, my brain consists of a carefully selected compilation of items that I’ve chosen from a smorgasbord of options and brought together somewhat haphazardly onto my plate in a way that satisfies me, without worrying too much if the ranch gets all over the cornbread and maybe that grosses somebody else out. I hope that at least one book on this list offers you comfort or peace or new mental skills. Peace2u4uraQT.