The Top 4 Books I Recommend in Spiritual Direction


Picking a book off a shelf
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If you’re like me, you’re always hungry to grow.


Whether that means devouring podcasts, discovering a new framework to use for my interior life, or using practices to ground me in my body, I’m always gnawing on something juicy.


Books have a particular way of worming their way into my insides. Some have been so life-changing for me that I frequently recommend them to others.


Here are four books that I find myself recommending over and over in spiritual direction - both because folks keep coming back raving about them - and because they mark a major development in my own path.


Perhaps they will for you, too?


1. Self Therapy


This book introduces the world of IFS, or Internal Family Systems. Almost every client I’ve used this framework with raves about the clarity and breakthroughs it leads to.


IFS sees our inner world as a family of “parts,” or subpersonalities. You’re probably familiar with the most common parts: the Judge, the People Pleaser, the Inner Critic. Maybe you even know some of their lesser known friends: the Schmoozer, the Blank Part, the Performer. These parts are what help us get through our day, and take over during different scenarios.


What gets tricky is when they use outdated methods for protecting you--like the Blank Part that pops up when your partner asks you a demanding question, and you’re suddenly thinking about lunch, or just can’t access your emotions all of a sudden. Or how about when two parts are in conflict? One part of you - say the Achiever - can’t wait to go change the world. But your Security part prefers you stick with what is familiar.


What IFS does is provide a framework for all these parts, and helps them work in harmony with one another. Instead of having constant inner chaos, tension, and chatter, the True Self can take the lead. This results in an incredible amount of relief, inner quiet, and living with authenticity.



2. The Impact of God


The majority of people I have in spiritual direction are fascinated by the mystics. But most feel pretty stumped in trying to learn more. (Ever tried casually picking up Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle??)


British Carmelite Iain Matthew wrote this profoundly accessible book illuminating the heart of John of the Cross. I always recommend Impact as the starting point for anyone who wants to learn more about this Spanish mystic, the Dark Night of the Soul, longing, etc. Unlike many other works on John, Impact is not an academic presentation of John’s theology. Instead, it attempts to communicate John’s heart as he might if he were alive today. It feels fresh.


Some sisters recommended this book to me in the convent - a number of them were totally jazzed about this book, and shared it with the rest of the community.


I have to be honest: when I first tried reading it, it did nothing for me. I wasn’t sure what the sisters were raving about.


However, about a year later, I picked it up again on a whim. I was frozen to my chair. The language, the longing were so precisely what the divine was working in me that I prayed with the table of contents alone for a week!



3. The Highly Sensitive Person


Are you easily moved by movies and music? Do you feel other people’s feelings? Have a natural proclivity for the depths?


You might be a Highly Sensitive Person.


20% of the world’s population is built this way. We have finely tuned nervous systems that take in stimulus much more deeply than others. It appears to be an evolutionary, genetic trait: 100 other species that have been studied show the same ratios in their populations.


Why is this significant?


Well, for those of you who have this trait, you also have challenges that others don’t have.


You get overwhelmed much more quickly. Noisy restaurants, cluttered rooms, driving through heavy traffic in a new place all tax your system more than average.


You might feel other people’s feelings so strongly that you have a hard time sorting out your own, or protecting yourself from others’ anxiety, grief, or anger.


You probably have had some tensions with your family - when you just want it quiet in the house, or can’t fathom going to a loud party after a long day at work.


Researcher Elaine Aron explains why this is, and (most importantly) how to navigate life when your insides are built this way.


4. A Tie between Falling Upward and Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere


This last recommendation is a tie between two modern mystics. Richard Rohr is a Franciscan friar with a rare clarity. In Falling Upward, he lays out the two halves of life. In transitioning from one to the other, we often feel like we’re falling apart… only to discover we’re falling more deeply into the Love that holds us all.


When I first read this, as I was coming out of severe illness, it put words to the big interior shift I felt. I was different, somehow, more settled in my own skin - but felt suddenly distant from many of my family and friends. Or, better - that my falling apart had landed me on the other side of a chasm that they were baffled by.


Echoing Jung, who also spoke of these two halves, Rohr explains what each half looks and feels like, how to tell which half you’re in, and how to live that stage well.


If Rohr offers a rare clarity, James Finley offers a rare beauty. His work reads like poetry.

In Merton’s Path to the Palace of Nowhere, he reflects upon the contemplative life as presented by his mentor, Thomas Merton. After spending years in the monastery together, Finley ended up pursuing the path of a therapist.


But he very clearly remained on the contemplative path - monastery or no. His work is an invitation to settle into your heart, and listen to the Stillness that reveals itself to you.


Confession: I far prefer listening to both of these men over reading them. Rohr’s clarity and charisma are all the more poignant; Finley sweeps you into his contemplative rhythm so that suddenly you’re contemplating too.


Rohr gives a talk on Youtube about Falling Upward here, and you can find Finley’s enchanting voice on his audiobook here.



What are the top 4 books you’d recommend for interior growth?




Hungry for more? Check out my list of 32 life-changing, enlightening, and savory books.




 

Kelly Deutsch specializes in audacity. Big dreams, fierce desires, restless hearts. When seekers are hungry for unspeakably more, she offers the space to explore contemplative depths and figure out where they fit in the vast spiritual landscape. She speaks and writes about divine intimacy, emotional intelligence, John of the Cross, trauma-informed spiritual practice, and neuropsychology. Kelly offers spiritual direction, coaching, contemplative cohorts, and retreats. She is the bestselling author of Spiritual Wanderlust: The Field Guide to Deep Desire. When she isn’t exploring the interior life, you might find her wandering under Oregonian skies or devouring red curry.

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