Friday, August 12, 2011

Reading to Learn

Yesterday, I wrote about how a book, "The Elegance of the Hedgehog", by Muriel Barbery was changing the way I looked at my life. This was not the first time books have changed my life. Books have changed my life many times over the years.

Sometimes, I went looking for answers in books and found them and other times I found both the questions and the answers. Sometimes, as in the above book, it was a new way of looking at an old problem. Sometimes, the book that I was reading was my own journal as I sat there not knowing what the problem was and I would write aimlessly as in writing meditation and before my eyes the issues appeared. That has happened numerous times.

In journal writing, we touch the resources within, the unconscious where an enormous amount of power lies but it is also unknown and it can be a bit scary at times. You never know what is going to appear at the end of one's pen or on a computer screen. It can often be something you have been trying to avoid for years. I have learned when something ugly and awful appears it is worthwhile staying with it because the other side is almost always a rainbow. It turns out what the self is dreading, avoiding is not some awful truth of oneself but some aspect of reality that has no one to blame and a black shadow dissipates into the sunshine of mindfulness. It is really quite lovely.

I have known people to write through grief and sadness and to read through it as well. Ignoring it or even self-medicating it through drugs or alcohol makes it far worse. I have a friend who learned the hard way that if he wrote about it, he did not have to drink the alcohol he was drinking to escape and he found he could make a very lucrative living at it. I read a review this morning of a woman who read a book a year to get over the death of her sister ("Nina Sankovitch, Allaying Grief Through Books" New York Times) and then wrote about it.

I went through a rough patch in my life when I was in my 40's. I had moved to California from the Midwest and was working as a teacher but with adults. I felt I was in a dead end. I was a professional teacher with credentials but working with others who were not. My marriage had ended and I felt at a loss to what I was going to do with my life. I went to a discount bookstore and there was a sale of books written by women from Australia and New Zealand. I bought books by authors I have never heard about. I did not so much read as I absorbed them in which the books were about women who were in similar places as I was. They did not find a new romance as many books that I had found in the bookstores by American authors but different and unique ways of coping with the changes in their lives. A new romance with a new man wasn't going to fix what was ailing me. I had to find new ways of coping with life. I always thought that I was able to sidestep a breakdown and to look at new and different ways of fixing what I thought were intolerable things in my life. I did. I got a new job in a professional setting and started living a life that I wanted to live. Those books that I remember lined a wall in my bedroom gave me the breathing space to come up with ways of dealing with my current problems.

I don't think I am writing down here a cure-all for everyone. This was one way I did it. I was able to remove myself from the situation I found myself in and detach enough to figure out what I needed to do. I did it with reading and writing. My journal was very important during that time. Sometimes, as in the example of a friend of mine, a spouse can provide the support and guidance the other needs. We don't always have it. Sometimes, a spouse is one's worse enemy as in the case of one friend. Sometimes, it is one's fellow girlfriends, the ones who grew up with. I don't know if men bond with other men quite like some women bond with other women but I have not heard they are as intimate with each other as women are. Some people have gotten the same results with religion. In years past, there would not have been books so readily available and certainly pen and paper for all to use nor event he skill to use them effectively. I was reading the history of books and often a library in the distant past would have been only one shelf of books. Many people would never have even seen a book let alone have some in their home. We can thank the printing press for that phenomena.

Whatever the method that is used, the greatest resource for solving one's problems remains and will always be the self. Even religious leaders have gotten their greatest revelations by going into the wilderness alone or sitting under a Bod-hi tree alone. We can do worse but reading a book or by recording our problems in one, the journal. I would rather trust my self than depend on someone else to find my answers. It is certainly cheaper. When I was starting my life as a young adult I was very poor and it was far cheaper to read a book about my problems than to go and see a therapist who I could not afford. Over the years, I was able to see therapists but it was the books whose author's words have stayed with me over the years and of course the explorations into one's inner worlds that have done the most good.

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