A selection of recommended books about Consciousness for anyone on the path to awakening and self-knowledge. These are some of the books I’ve found particularly helpful or interesting over the years. There are longer reviews attached via links, and more to come…
Dr Eben Alexander – Proof of Heaven
This is an astonishing account of a neurosurgeon’s Near Death Experience after suffering bacterial meningitis and falling into a coma. What he saw led him to question everything he believed in. This case of NDE is particularly interesting because Dr Alexander is uniquely qualified to explain exactly how and why his experience couldn’t be a mere hallucination as his neocortex wasn’t functioning. The book recounts in detail what happened during the week he was in a coma, pieced together from his medical records and testimony by his family and the doctors who helped him to recover. Woven into the narrative of his brain being eaten by E. Coli is an account of Alexander’s childhood and family history. This is significant because he was adopted as a child and had always dreamed of finding his biological parents. Alexander makes a compelling case for the survival of consciousness and this book is a welcome addition to the NDE literature.
Guy Claxon – The Wayward Mind
A journey through the history of how we have made sense of the unconscious mind over the centuries, from myths and literature, to cultural and religious beliefs, to science. Everybody experiences dreams, feelings of déjà vu, hunches and premonitions, but in the past people explained these in very different ways. In the ancient world they talked of gods, demons and angels, telling epic tales of heroic actions to make sense of the unconscious urges that seemed to control their lives. These days we would explain our strange behaviour using neuroscience and talk of synapses and electrical currents in the brain. What makes this book interesting is that Guy Claxon believes we have lost a lot in the process of apparently explaining what we don’t understand by reducing it to chemicals sloshing about in our brains. The scientific view lacks depth and explanatory power. This book calls for a more imaginative approach.
Graham Hancock – Supernatural
This fascinating book explores the parallels between trance states and visionary experiences in different eras through history, and asks important questions about the nature of our consciousness. Hancock shows the similarities between prehistoric cave paintings, the art produced by shamans, and entoptic phenomena (patterns perceived within the eye) which arise in the first stage of a trance. He also discusses the common elements found in abduction stories from modern aliens and UFOs to tales of fairies and encounters with the otherworld. Our brains appear to be wired for transcendence and visionary experiences, but less than 50,000 years ago we had no art, religion, or symbolism. Then there was an explosion in consciousness and all the qualities we see as human appeared already fully formed, as if they were lying dormant just waiting to be activated. This book tries to discover the truth about the influences that shaped the human mind and made us what we are.
Terrance McKenna – Food of the Gods
A brilliant account of the history of drug use from the ancient to the modern world. Food of the Gods may provide some answers to the questions raised in Hancock’s Supernatural. The use of mushrooms and other hallucinogenic plants provide the missing link to explain our development of language and art. The myth about eating the forbidden fruit from the Tree of Knowledge in Eden relates to the time our ancestors used plants to heal and enhance their consciousness so they could commune with nature and the gods. But the loss of this ancient shamanic knowledge has led to the development of addictive drugs with all the problems that brings. McKenna also explores why our culture legalises some drugs but not others, and offers an inspiring vision for the future based on a more sane relationship with our own consciousness that embraces the transcendent instead of repressing it.
Anita Moorjani – Dying To Be Me
An inspiring account of Anita Moorjani’s near-death experience and recovery from lymphoma. She begins with a description of life growing up as an outsider in Hong Kong, and how she felt compelled to fit in and pretend to be what she thought others wanted her to be. Despite this, she managed to create a life for herself, but then came the fateful diagnosis. After four years fighting the illness, Anita’s body began to shut down. She slipped into a coma and was rushed to hospital where the doctors battled to save her life. She entered a near death experience and her consciousness expanded into an altered state. Dying To Be Me explores what she experienced and the lessons she learned. It’s an inspiring and thought-provoking book with a healing and uplifting message at its heart.
Jeremy Narby – The Cosmic Serpent
An exploration of consciousness, DNA and the origins of knowledge by anthropologist, Jeremy Narby. While he was living with Peruvian Indians, they explained that their incredible knowledge of plants and biochemistry was communicated to them by the plants themselves while their consciousness was transformed by hallucinogens. Narby was sceptical at first, but then became increasingly drawn into his quest to understand. This book recounts this quest as a compelling investigation that pushes him to the limits of rationality. Narby draws together shamanism, ancient mythology, molecular biology and neurology, and comes to the conclusion that the Indian’s claims were true. Specific biological information can be directly transmitted through DNA into our consciousness. This is a fascinating book which will completely change your view of what it is possible to know and how that knowledge can be achieved.
Steve Taylor – Waking from Sleep
This book suggests that our normal consciousness is a kind of sleep and that we can wake from this into a more intense, present reality. Steve Taylor explores various higher states of consciousness and awakening experiences, and looks at the ways we can induce them. There are sections on the methods people have used throughout history to induce awakening, including meditation, homeostatic disruption (HD), drugs, and sleep deprivation, and he looks at how we can make this state of wakefulness our normal state of consciousness. This is a great reference for different techniques and contains clear explanations of what higher states of consciousness are, including a comparison of what Taylor calls HD states with ISLE (Intensification and Stilling of Life-Energy) states, and their relative merits and dangers. In a nutshell: HD states are wild and ecstatic, while ISLE states are serene and more stable. You can experience both, but if you want permanent wakefulness you need to cultivate ISLE states. Full review here.
Ken Wilber – The Spectrum of Consciousness
The transpersonal psychology classic that launched a revolution in how we think about consciousness. This is an essential reference for Wilber’s subsequent work. He wrote it when he was 23 years old and washing dishes in a restaurant. It was the first book to put forward a systematic way of integrating the psychological models of the West with the contemplative traditions of the East. This book is still one of the reference points for anyone trying to integrate psychology and spirituality. The premise is simple: like radiation and light, consciousness exists in a spectrum which ‘steps down’ into multiple layers or dimensions as it enters time and space. This is nothing new to the Eastern approach, but then Wilber adds the various schools of Western psychology to build a comprehensive model of consciousness where seemingly disparate disciplines can be seen to relate to a different wavelength or dimension of awareness.
Ken Wilber – The Atman Project
Building on his work in The Spectrum of Consciousness, this book brilliantly integrates Eastern and Western approaches to psychological development and the expansion of consciousness beyond the ego. In The Atman Project Wilber outlines his theory of the evolution of consciousness which is driven by the desire to attain unity with Atman in Self-realisation. Every other drive or desire we have is a pale imitation of this ultimate desire – to return home to our source and remember who we are. Wilber describes the levels of development that we pass through as the self evolves, combining psychology and spirituality into a seamless whole, and explains the mechanism of this evolution – how each level is transcended but included as we move up. He also explains the important differences between pre-rational and trans-rational levels of consciousness, and shows how to avoid falling into what he calls the pre/trans fallacy. Classic Wilber.
Missed any good ones? Recommend a book in the comment section below…