The things that have helped me over the past year or so

by JordanB

This is a list of resources that have been an important part of my eudaimonia over the past year. I am excluding things that would not be available to most people – such as, for example, my friends. They are not in a particular order. Many of them were somewhat serendipitous. I will explain how I came by each of them so you can see for yourself!

They are vaguely in chronological order in terms of when I started paying attention to them.

1. Haiku – especially that of Basho. I’m usually not very good with poetry, but this helped me to learn to be a bit more wide-eyed and not depend so much on my intellect.

2. The music of Philip Glass. Especially the Metamorphoses, and the operas Akhnaten and Satyagraha. I’m not sure how I started my recent obsession with Glass. I love the elegant beauty of it, though.

3. Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse. When I reread this about eight months ago, I had a sudden realization that seeking the pearl of great price should be the thing that determines everything else in my life. It got me thinking more intentionally about cultivating a contemplative life. Whatever is worth living for is worth sacrificing everything for.

4. Thomas Merton’s The New Seeds of Contemplation. I had always heard that Merton’s writings were profound. This book helped me to understand what contemplation is and what it is not – and especially put me on guard against the egotism of “spirituality.”

5. The Ignatian Exercises, led by a sister of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I was attending a tutor-training workshop and happened to sit next to one of the sisters. We struck up a conversation, and when she heard I was interested in Thomas Merton she cajoled me into joining the exercises- which had only just begun the week before. Really, this came at just the right moment for me and helped to shepherd a lot of my haphazard thoughts.

6. Richard Rohr’s daily meditations, delivered via email. A good friend would occasionally post them to facebook. They I happened upon a YouTube video by Fr. Rohr on prayer as deepening one’s simple awareness. They can be a bit cognitive, but still very helpful. They often stir up things for me.

7. The Ember and the Stars by Erazim Kohak. I was doing some research on phenomenology and happened to see on he library shelves an interesting-sounding book called Renewing the Senses by Mark Wynn. He quoted Kohak extensively. A passage that caught my eye described the wonder and mystery of life itself, as beheld in the appearance of a porcupine in a forest clearing. So I sought this book out and found myself stunned by a vision of reality that was clear and beautiful, unlike anything I had come across before. It gave me a deep sense of the beauty of reality, and helped me to recover the a sense of the sweetness of life.

8.  Addiction and Grace, by Gerald May. A fine book that hit me hard upside the head rather unexpectedly. It was recommended to me by my spiritual director. It gave me the right word I needed at the right time, and subtly shifted me onto a path that has been both difficult and good.

9. The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. I’m reading this now. In a lot of ways this is picking up where Addiction and Grace left off. I think I read this a while ago, but did not understand what the heck John was talking about. It makes a lot more sense now, almost uncannily so.

10. Of course and always, long walks in the woods, whenever and wherever I can get it. This has always been a part of my life. It is hard in the city, but Philadelphia has more park space then any other city in the country, so I am lucky.