I got the opportunity to view my 2022 Year in Books on Goodreads and was excited to revisit my reading list from the year. I did not read a ton of books – a little over one per month – but still, many had slipped my mind or already feel like eons have passed since I finished them. I wanted to highlight a few of my favorite reads from this year and recommend them!
Of the 15 books I read last year, it is really hard to narrow down which ones I think are essential reads. All the books I read were very important and engaging in their own way. I settled on 6 books that I feel really made a difference in my day to day life or gripped me on a soul level. I tried to rank them according to how fast or accessible they are to read, but this should not be taken to mean that a book of a given rank was more or less enjoyable than the others.
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1. Contentment by Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl
The first book I would like to recommend from my 2022 reading list is also the shortest book on the list! Robert A. Johnson has long been a favorite Jungian author of mine, so when I came across this title I did not hesitate to pick it up. Johnson’s books are incredibly accessible and often short – able to be completed in under a week, and sometimes a single day. I consider his work incredibly important because he is able to take Jungian concepts – which are often dense and challenging to comprehend – and convey them in ways that are succinct and effectively understood. I often find his writing to be illuminating and healing, and Contentment did not disappoint on this front.
In Contentment, Johnson and Ruhl explore how modern life leaves us endlessly oscillating between ups and downs, in search of an ever-elusive sense of satisfaction and, well, contentment. They give the reader practical steps and exercises to break out of this cycle and find true contentment with what is at any given moment. Ultimately, this book is about cultivating presence and what the authors describe as “fidelity to the moment.” To access true contentment, we first learn about inflation, which is a distorted sense of self, and how that leads us to approach life from the assumption that we can control the currents of our world through conscious will alone. This inflationary view of ourselves inevitably leads to periods of deflation, another distorted sense of self, where we feel despair or depression when we are unable to live up to our inflated ideas about how things ought to be. The authors also educate us on the nature of psychological projection – “the error of attaching an aspect of your inner life onto someone or something on the outside” – and urge us to take responsibility for our inner life by taking back our projections. If we do this, our sense of self is restored to an appropriate proportion – neither inflated nor deflated – and we are able to live for the moment, whatever it brings us, and feel contented.
I read this book because I was on a camping trip with a friend during a time when I was experiencing increased anxiety in my life. I had forgotten to bring physical books and download books in my kindle app before I had left my internet connection back home. It was getting to that point in the camping trip where I needed something to stimulate my mind, so I opened my kindle app and looked at what was already downloaded. This was a fresh phone install, so hardly any of my kindle books had been downloaded yet… except this one. I dove in and finished Contentment within a day and a half. This book left me feeling grounded and equipped with practical tools to surrender to presence – which greatly aided my remaining time spent camping. “Fidelity to the moment” is now a mantra I fall back on regularly when I notice myself feeling helter-skelter or frustrated. The material in this book is so practical and illuminating that I have to put it first on the list.
2. Outrageous Openness by Tosha Silver
This next book is another short, easy read – full of anecdotes and potent lessons about surrendering control over our lives. If you collect oracle decks, you may recognize Tosha Silver from popular decks such as Divine Abundance and The Wild Offering. Outrageous Openness is an excellent companion read for Contentment as they are both essentially asking the same question: How do we stop trying to make life conform to our ideas of how things should be or unfold? Through Silver’s entertaining life stories and simple exercises, we can learn how to take a seat and allow the Divine to bring us what we need or desire. We realize that we do not have to shoulder the responsibility of making reality bend and move to our will to get what we want – we simply need to wait and listen for the signal to act.
I found Silver’s writing to be entertaining and light-hearted, leaving me feeling a sense of relief and ease. Outrageous Openness really helped elucidate the concept of receptivity and surrendering outcomes to me, which I previously struggled with terribly. I had been trying to learn how to just let go and allow the universe to bring me my manifestations, never quite understanding what it meant to do this until I read this book. Now I frequently utilize Silver’s recommended tools, such as keeping a “god box” where I place all my fears and concerns for outcomes I have no control over. Putting her teachings into practice has allowed incredible opportunities to manifest in unexpected ways in my life, invoking a deep sense of security and gratitude that is now easily accessed in my day to day life. I highly recommend this book for anyone who struggles with feeling gratitude or a sense of abundance.
3. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaimon
2022 was the year that I learned that I periodically needed breaks from reading non-fiction. I have read nonfiction material nearly exclusively since high school – that’s over a decade. I’m so glad I started implementing “fiction breaks” into my reading routine. I find there are so many benefits to my mind and creativity now that I read fiction whenever I feel myself feeling cognitive fatigued. Towards the end of summer, I knew I was in need of a fiction break and was not sure what I wanted to read. I knew of Neil Gaimon, but I didn’t really have an encounter with his body of work until I watched Good Omens on Amazon. I needed a fiction story that was going to grip me the same way I had been gripped by Howl’s Moving Castle earlier in the year. Somehow I ended up stumbling upon The Ocean at the End of the Lane and I am so thrilled to have done so.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a modern fairytale, rich with symbolic material and the essential elements of a deeply moving hero’s journey. Our unnamed protagonist’s recollection of his unusual supernatural experiences as a young boy accompanied by his feisty neighbor, Lettie Hempstock, sets our story. I don’t want to spoil it – as I particularly enjoyed going into this book knowing absolutely nothing about what to expect, simply diving in and seeing what happened. This story blew me away, shook me to my core, moved me to tears, and left me feeling a deep sense of longing and wonder. Even though this story did not explicitly try to offer me advice or heal me like many of the books I typically read, I feel transformed and deeply touched just by having experienced The Ocean at the End of the Lane. If you are searching for a fiction book to read, look no further.
4. Motherhood by Lisa Marchiano
I had been anticipating this book for a while. Up until around late 2021, I was tormented by severe ambivalence around whether or not I would like to become a mother. While the bulk of it had resolved for me after I received as direct of an answer from my unconscious as I possibly could in the form of a halfway lucid dream (yes I would like to be a mother), I still needed to explore and educate myself on motherhood. I particularly needed to prepare myself for how I would be transformed psychologically by motherhood, as this had been one of the serious sources of fear that lead to my ambivalence: how do I know I am strong enough to become a competent mother? While there are a lot of books on motherhood, there are not necessarily a lot – if any – that tackle the inner journey of motherhood from a Jungian perspective. That is where Lisa Marchiano’s brilliant work comes in.
Marchiano is one of the founding hosts of the podcast, This Jungian Life (which I love to recommend to people). Motherhood generously gave me what I was searching for, which was a way to relate to motherhood within the context of my own internal development as an adult woman. Through the exploration of myths, fairytales, and anecdotes we get a sense of the way motherhood presents women with an opportunity for powerful self-discovery. We learn that motherhood is one way women can become initiated into the heroine’s journey, which takes us down into our inner depths – as opposed to out in the world, such is the way of the masculine hero’s journey. Every chapter concludes with thoughtful questions that provoke and guide the reader to reflect deeply on their relationship to archetypal feminine experiences. This book is one that I know I will revisit throughout my life.
5. The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk
This book is somewhat legendary from my perspective – it is the book on trauma psychology and its societal impact. Easily one of the world’s greatest experts on trauma, Bessel Van Der Kolk has tirelessly fought for and pioneered research into psychological trauma care for decades, and he presents everything he has learned in The Body Keeps the Score.
I think this book is mandatory for anyone who has been affected by psychological trauma – even as a loved one of a trauma survivor (and since we all have trauma or have known others with trauma, that means everyone must read this book!) However, everyone needs to know that Van Der Kolk doesn’t hold anything back in this book. Within the first 15 pages we learn about his experiences treating returning soldiers struggling with deeply disturbing moral problems. I remember thinking, “Alright, we are really just going all-in on presenting the darkest aspects of human nature without sugarcoating or beating around the bush.” Let this serve as your trigger warning. I have deep respect for Van Der Kolk’s choice to not try and dance around the dark side of life – I think it is critical that we as a society stop trying to avoid looking at the scary, disturbing things that go on in our world. However, I do think that it is important that if you are going to read this book that you take pauses to notice how your body is feeling and discern whether or not you need a break at certain points.
Overall, I learned so much from this book that I am incredibly grateful for. The Body Keeps the Score helped me understand my husband, my family, and myself in a way that facilitated compassion and understanding. I felt emotional during many points of this book, feeling deep empathy for my husband in particular as I could see his experiences in the many anecdotes shared throughout this book. The first half of the book focuses on defining trauma, giving a historical overview of the evolution of trauma research and care, and the impact trauma has on our society. The second half focuses on well-researched therapeutic strategies for healing trauma. This was a wise decision – a book like this really needed to end on an empowering note, and I was certainly left feeling empowered to heal my own trauma and better understand the other trauma survivors in my life. This book easily could have tied for #1 on this list in terms of how essential of a read it is, but I placed it down here because it’s a long book and at times can be a bit academic. While I think everyone should read it, I can also see how it might not be as accessible to those who aren’t as interested in nonfiction on the slightly denser side.
5. Balancing Heaven and Earth by Robert A. Johnson and Jerry M. Ruhl
Last but not least, another book by Robert A. Johnson is on this list – did I mention he is one of my favorites? This book serves as Johnson’s memoir, as facilitated by Ruhl. It was referenced in Contentment and instantly made it onto my wish list. I ended up getting the chance to start reading it while I was on my very first spiritual retreat. The retreat was titled “Embodying the Soul,” themed around integrating spiritual consciousness into our earthly experiences. Needless to say, Balancing Heaven and Earth was perfect for the occasion.
The book begins by retelling Johnson’s near-death experience that left him an amputee, touched by what he calls the “Golden World” – an encounter with the numinous, when he was just 11 years old. This experience launched his lifelong spiritual quest to return to the Golden World, which informed much of his work as a Jungian analyst. His life story is full of remarkable characters and mystical experiences, all woven together by the “slender threads” that tug at all of us. I deeply appreciated getting to know Johnson through this memoir. The opportunity to relate to Johnson’s personal journey added immeasurable value to the already incredible impact his body of work has had on me. If you are at all a fan of Johnson’s books, then I would say this is a must-read.