19 Books To Hone Your Courage
- The status quo, dominant culture of our society was not built to and cannot bring about liberation and justice for all people.
- What we practice with our lives — our habits and actions — often reinforces that status quo culture, even when we don’t mean for it to.
- Our opportunity is to become more conscious about what we’re practicing and make choices about how to practice in more liberatory, disruptively self-compassionate ways.
- Creating collective liberation — out in the world, for all people — starts with, and in fact depends on, our own inner liberation.
That is the heart work we’re doing here.
Published: December 5, 2018
19 Books To Hone Your Courage
by laura brewer
The mission of Do The Heart Work when it began earlier this year was to shake up the status quo — of our thinking, and of our culture — through deep heart-centered inner work. Here are 19 books that will help you do just that, and hone your practice of courage. From fiction to non-fiction, spiritual to sexual — each of these books will crack you open, challenge you, inspire you, and call you into a deeper relationship with your courage in some way. They will also ask you to hold paradoxes and tensions, and in some cases, turn you upside down and flip you inside out. If you let them.
Happy almost 2019. And happy couraging.
1. The Places That Scare You: A Guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön. While rooted in Buddhist practice, you don’t need to be Buddhist to understand and get a ton from this book. This text has carried me through a great many emotional difficulties and is about the courage to face them head-on. “The central question of a warrior’s training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort.”
2. How To Fight by Thich Nhat Hanh. Don’t be fooled by the pocket-sized text and the simplistic drawings. Each page — with only a few sentences on each — is a master class in the courageous inner work and vulnerability required to spread peace. “Before you do the work of reconciliation with another, you need to restore communication with yourself.”
3. The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin. To speak truth to power, we must first allow the truth to penetrate us. In this love letter to his nephew, Baldwin calls us all to hold the truth of what is required to practice justice and hone our capacity to declare it. “Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within.”
4. Radical Dharma: Talking Race, Love, and Liberation by Rev. angel Kyodo williams, Lama Rod Owens, and Jasmine Syedullah. The cannon for love and justice. Period. “When we attempt to love out of our woundedness, then our loving is only violence.”
5. A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle. This book illuminates how our thoughts and mind often work against our own — and external — peace. Tolle woke up my spirit and consciousness, which then woke up my heart. This book is about the courage to wake up, existentially, and to our own suffering. “Whatever you identify with turns into ego.”
6. All About Love: New Versions by bell hooks. The Expert on love-as-a-verb, hooks journeys from romantic love to activist love and many places in between in this critical text. And throughout the journey, she pushes on the courage to build a practice of love. “Love is as love does…Without justice there can be no love.”
7. The Lost Art of Compassion: Discovering the Practice in the Meeting of Buddhism and Psychology by Lorne Ladner. This, like several other books on this list, is Buddhist in content and philosophy. But also like the others, you don’t need to be Buddhist to access the insights. In it, you’ll find guidance, suggestions, and wisdom on the skills and courage required to practice compassion. “If you want the world to be a more compassionate, positive place, then your best contribution will be setting a beautiful and inspiring example of compassion yourself.”
8. The War or Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield. This is an awesome book to read at the start of the year, as you’ve clarified your goals and mission for the year ahead. Honestly, it’s a good book to read any day of the year to better understand the role and mechanisms of resistance — and how to develop the courage to push through it. “Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify, seduce, bully, cajole … Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”
9. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu (my favorite translation is Stephen Mitchell). I read the Tao Te Ching every single year, and each time I read it, I glean new insight that shapes both who I am and how I approach my work. This book will hone your courage to practice un-learning, not-knowing, and letting go. “If you want to become full, / let yourself be empty.”
10. The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. One of the only three fiction books on this list, the writing — and story — will crack your heart wide open. A story of relationship, of intimacy, of heartbreak, and of love and about the courage to confront the unconventional. “You can’t order fear around.”
11. I Will Not Die an Unlived Life: Reclaiming Purpose and Passion by Dawna Markova. The title would be cliché if the book didn’t deliver on it’s promise — to force you to look passion, and purpose, deep in the eyes. Confronted with her mortality, Markova has profound insight and questions to help all of us build the courage to live into a deeper well of life. “I don’t think anyone ‘finds’ joy. Rather, we cultivate it by searching for the preciousness of small things, the ordinary miracles, that strengthen our hearts so we can keep them open to what is difficult.”
12. Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie. Katie is nothing if not provocative — and, mind-changing. “The Work” helps you identify the suffering we create in our own thinking, and pushes you to choose the courage to challenge everything you think you know. “You are the teacher you’ve been waiting for.”
13. The Little Book of Restorative Justice by Howard Zehr. While created as an alternative approach to our prison system, this book has changed how I approach everything — including my relationships. Here you’ll hone your courage for reconciliation, for forgiveness, and for the vulnerability required to right your wrongs. “I believe in ideals. Much of the time we fall short of them, but they remain a beacon, something toward which to aim, something against which to test our actions. They point a direction. Only with a sense of direction can we know when we are off the path.”
14. Matilda by Roald Dahl. One of the few books I’ve loved since I read it as a kid. If you’ve ever felt weird or different, this book is for you. It’s a declaration to the courage to fly your super freak flag with pride. “Never do anything by halves if you want to get away with it. Be outrageous. Go the whole hog. Make sure everything you do is so completely crazy it’s unbelievable.”
15. More Than Two: A Practical Guide to Ethical Polyamory by Franklin Veaux. This book is technically about polyamory and open relationships, BUT — it’s really a book about the courage to build purposefully designed, consent-based, liberatory intimacy with other human beings. This book will enhance any kind of relationship you’re in (even non-romantic) while also singing the courage of sex-positivity from the rooftops. “Courage is a verb…: it’s not something you have, it’s something you do. You practice a bit every day.”
16. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I disliked this book the first time I read it, and then dismissed it (not proud of that, PS). Years later, I was given the book as a gift and re-read it with an open mind and heart. And it transformed me. This book is about practicing the courage required to hear your own heart. “Listen to your heart. It knows all things, because it comes from the Soul of the World and it will one day return there.”
17. Black Girl Dangerous: On Race, Queerness, Class, and Gender by Mia McKenzie. A collection of essays from her former blog-of-the-same-name, this book is a deep dive into intersectionality. It is a practice in holding space and making space, and in some cases, taking up space. It’s also a book about the skills and courage necessary to be in deep, authentic solidarity and allyship. “Racism is your problem. Act like you know that.”
18. The Sound of A Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey. The courage to be still, to observe, to wonder, and to survive. A few of the things you’ll learn here. “Time unused and only endured still vanishes, as if time itself is starving, and each day is swallowed whole, leaving no crumbs, no memory, no trace at all.”
19. Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence by Esther Perel. I also really recommend her TED talk. This book is about the courage required to welcome intimacy, and desire. “Love rests on two pillars: surrender and autonomy. Our need for togetherness exists alongside our need for separateness.”
The Podcast to Enhance Your Practice: How To Make Love
Our practice is enhanced by learning from other humans out there doing the same work. I strongly recommend complimenting your practice and this article by listening to Episode 9 of my podcast, How To Make Love. Rev. angel Kyodo williams is both an author of a book on this list, and calls us all into a deeper practice of courage through love and justice.
Rev. angel Kyodo williams
Interested in doing Heart Work with laura?