Illustration: Shout

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Help Yourself
Every now and then, amid the clamor of obligations and extraneous irritants, something inside us urges that we slow down. Yet all too often, we ignore that whisper.

Once, a few years ago, as I juggled the demands of being a radio correspondent and writer while learning to parent my stepdaughter and tend to my aging mother, I felt myself coming unmoored. In need of radical intervention, I signed up for a week-long silent retreat at a Jesuit community in Wernersville, Pennsylvania. On my first morning there, I sat with my "spiritual director," tapping my watch and announcing that I'd given myself a deadline: seven days to relocate my calm center. We laughed at the incongruity of imposing a timetable on such a goal, but I was determined that by the end of my stay I'd be ready to face reality again, with renewed grace and insight. So I prayed. I meditated. I read Thomas Aquinas, Kathleen Norris, Saint Augustine. I walked in the woods. Gradually, the cacophony abated.

Of course, it didn't stay that way. And like most of us, I can't afford to regularly step out of the world to get my bearings. I need shortcuts to sanity, which is why I turn to the books on my nightstand—for solace, for stimulation, for exaltation.

Here are eight volumes with different approaches but the same core message: To serve our true purpose and find joy, we must first look inward.