It’s been quite a year. I’m guessing, for most of us, our first pandemic. Not something we knew we needed to be prepared for this time last year, meaning most of us weren’t – couldn’t be – prepared for what the year has entailed. Confusion, uncertainty, lack of clarity, change, loss, fear, anxiety. As well as, of course, deep gratitude, appreciation, connection.
But for those of us feeling a little drained by the totality of the year’s demands on us, we thought we would offer you a reprieve! Here’s a list of five books that aren’t about work, or self-improvement or development or growth – but books that will speak to your soul, inspire you, lift and energise your spirit. Books that, whilst not about coaching, are about insight, perspective, noticing and humanity. In short, they are all books that you would do well to put on your Christmas wish list right now!
1. The Well of Being, Jean-Pierre Weill (2013)
This is a book for every human. But for humans that are coaches? Every page will be especially delightful, offering as it does an exquisite representation of so much that underpins our work. The premise is simple. We experience a sense of well-being when we accept ourselves as we are; if we can decouple the ‘truth’ of who we believe ourselves to be from the stories that we carry around from our history. When we accept ourselves as here-on-purpose, “our existence not an accident, but a mystery.”
The text is a distillation of spirituality, philosophy, faith, joy. It is a love letter to humanity, an invitation to be more fully here, more present to the abundance of peace and beauty available to us in any moment.
It is a book to be experienced, not just read. Each page has limited text and a beautiful watercolour illustration. The invitation? Slow down. Enjoy. Consider, Feel. This is not a book to flick and fly through, but one to absorb into the cells of your being. For:
This is a book to dip into on good days, bad days, days when you feel a little lost, days when your heart is yearning for a soulful connection. It’s a book to come home to.
There are few books that better capture the truth of what it means to relate to another human being than Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book. With the lightest of touches, she shows us how we dance in the moment through a whole kaleidoscope of different feelings, from respect to fear to mistrust to collusion; each moment indubitably true and yet, just a moment. The heat of emotion is experienced, and then passes. This is Jansson’s gift; she is less concerned with enduring character, more with capturing the flashes of emotion that sparkle the life into her characters, like sunbeams glistening on the surface of the sea.
And who are the characters? Six-year-old Sophia who, we discover, has recently lost her mother, and her 86-year-old Grandmother. It is through the lens of their relationship that we get to experience the bravado and arrogance of youth, and the frustrations and limitations of old age; also, the uncertainty and sudden terrors of youth, as well as the willfulness and recklessness of old age. These people are real, fully realised, alive. They make demands of each other, are disappointed by each other, can feel let down or shamed by the other…and support and delight in the other with an absoluteness that is entirely believable.
It is through their daily adventures that we see our own foibles writ large. Whether it’s climbing a too large wall, wishing for a too wild storm, hosting an unadventurous playmate or trespassing on a neighbour’s property, we see ourselves in the breadth of their responses. Here, Sophia shares her discoveries on what it means to love (the most independent of cats):
Change the words Sophia for client, and Grandmother for coach, and this could well be a fly on the wall peak into a coaching session! We have much to learn from the restraint and wisdom that both Sophia and Grandmother express throughout the pages of this small but beautifully formed classic.
Marion Milner was a young psychologist when she wrote An Experiment in Leisure in 1937 (a companion piece to the earlier book, A Life of One’s Own). For any coach interested in the phenomenology of coaching, this book is a must. Nobody does noticing better than Milner! And for coaches interested in mindfulness, Milner’s exploration will provide a rich lexicon for expressing the beautiful act of letting go of will.
This book details with exquisite and skilful candour Milner’s investigations into what it means to be who we are. Why are we drawn to the things we are? What is it that means a particular passage in a book, a particular memory of a journey, or a particular image on a postcard comes to matter to us? Why are certain phrases or images stored as important in our brains? And what is the how by which we can come to mine the dark and shady reaches of our mind in order to discern greater meaning and insight?
The book is packed with wisdom and insight as we accompany Milner on her journey, rich with paradox; it is in letting go that she experiences fullness, it is in turning away from classifying that she discovers deep meaning. Finding a way to be with emptiness of mind brings her a richness of awareness, so hard to describe and yet something she manages, expressing it so beautifully here:
If Milner notices with a keen and steady presence, unattached to any outcome, then Mr. Palomar is her fictional opposite. He notices all, with an intensity born of control. By studying the minutiae – the movement of a wave, the mating of tortoises, blackbirds calling to each other – his goal is to find the right model that will support him to “extend this knowledge to the entire universe.”
Mr. Palomar was the last book Italo Calvino published in his lifetime and is, quite simply, a masterpiece. The narrator’s voice is that of a philosopher with tongue firmly in cheek, seriousness sprinkled with affectionate humour, and occasional pathos that humanises Palomar and disarms the reader. At the zoo, we catch a glimpse of insight into Palomar’s inner world, watching a gorilla cling to its rubber tyre:
Like Milner, Palomar is on a journey of discovery. Unlike Milner, his explorations lead him further away from connection and understanding. But the book is drenched with such affection for the protagonist, the reader’s progression is one of fullness. Whether it’s watching Palomar struggle with how best to respect a woman sunbathing naked on the beach or how to buy cheese in a busy deli; whether it’s watching his fascination with the stars or the movements of giraffes, we are with him. Towards the end of the book, Palomar considers his difficulties relating to others, and we learn:
Amongst all the philosophical enquiry, the observation, the desire to sort and understand and control, here is the beating heart, the unavoidable truth; we humans long for connection. Mr. Palomar is a character that you will connect with and take with you in your own heart. One to treasure.
The final word goes to Cheri Huber, a Zen teacher and beautiful writer who is, quite simply, a trusted guide to the human mind. Reading this book is akin to taking a walk, hand in hand with Huber, as she wanders through the battered landscape of your psyche and simply says, of course, yes, this all looks perfectly normal.
– Negative self-chatter? Of course.
– Self-hate? Naturally.
– Feelings of fear and inadequacy? Tick, tick, tick!
The hand-written style and use of diagrams makes the messaging more accessible. And the message? There is nothing wrong with you. The self-hate ruse we pick up from childhood and society doesn’t have to be believed.
A great book, for coaches and clients alike, it normalises the voices in our head and offers a clear path from suffering to acceptance.
Here at Animas, we can’t think of a better message to end 2020 with!
If you want to add even more to your holiday reading list, then check out our range of fantastic e-books. From lightbulb moments to explorations around identity in coaching, there is a wealth of information here – all for free!