Monday, January 11, 2016

Books, Humility, and the Greatest Adventure

I've loved to read since I was a little girl. From as early as I can remember, my mother read to me- she claims, even before I was born, but certainly throughout my childhood. If I were to look back on Christmas lists and birthday wishes from my formative years, books were always on them. 

I loved to read in school, I loved to read outside of school, I loved to recommend and buy books for other people that I liked to believe could inspire their lives just as mine were inspired. 

Books are like a healthy coping mechanism, in a way. They are a peaceable, innocent, engaging, thought-inducing trip outside ourselves. They take us into other worlds, other characters, other peoples' thoughts by developing in us a sense of empathy- relating well and lovingly to other people. They help us learn different perspectives. Best of all, I think, they open us up: teach us to fall in love with new, different ideas.
As a life-long reader, I also find that particular books come into our lives at just the right times: they reveal to us things we need in the moment we find them, and the ideas we absorb when we read stay with us. They teach us things we'll need later to decipher the world, to see patterns, and to create worlds of our own. 

Books teach us something our modern culture lacks: a sense of patience, a sense of information intake whose results are not always immediately visible. There are ideas from books I read in college, for example, that I maybe understood academically or intellectually at the time, but didn't really see manifested in real life until later. 
The themes we encounter in books give us a road map of the human condition. Reading Hesse's Siddhartha introduced me to the nature of true wisdom as an experience, not just a transference of knowledge- which has affected the way I perceive truth. Reading Plato's Republic introduced me to the nature of reality and ideas- which has affected the way I articulate truth. Reading Coelho's The Alchemist reawakened in me a trust in the subtle reality that we all carry within us: that our only true mission on earth is to live a life that is a full realization of who we are.

That is what books do: they introduce, they awaken, they reveal deeper, more wonderful things to us that we may not otherwise have known about. They remind us when we forget. They wake us back up.
Readers know they'd actually be totally different people if it weren't for the imprints made upon them by the books that shaped them throughout life. There's a real magic in reading books for this reason: they give us foresight. They help us see more clearly.

They fill us with ideas that allow us to become "big-picture thinkers," able to see see bigger themes and overarching plot lines, to continue on with things for which our minds may not have resolution, because we know that's just how stories go: quite simply, you can't know the endings until you go through the beginnings and the middles. 

So it is with all of life. 
There's a modern desire- bred of our quick, instant-gratification culture- to solidify and title and secure everything we touch right away. Most of us say we would like adventure- but we like comfort more. Most of us say we would like to take risks- but we are completely adverse to failure. Most of us would like a meaningful, rich life- but we'd rather not sacrifice to go looking for it.

And this is what I like about readers: they're not usually like that. They'll adventure. They'll risk. They'll sacrifice. They'll live the things all good stories are about.

When I think about it, I can think of few better solutions to the problem of living the life we really want- a true one, a passionate one, one of dreams, authenticity, and truth- than reading. To read at all is to awaken a desire for more: more ideas, more solutions, more truth, more life. 

And to read a variety, because variety (with an open mind) forces connection, which spawns creativity and free thinking. This helps us live authentically and openly too. My journey as a woman has been informed by the stories- of adventure, of thought, of struggles- of men. My journey as an artist has been heavily informed by the books and ideas of famous scientists like Sagan and Einstein. My journey as a Christian has been been influenced by the books and ideas of many non-Christians and atheists. 
It's funny to say it this way, but books do something we all think our opinions do, but really don't: they represent a bigger, more realistic reality. They make us really human. They connect us to something bigger than ourselves, something beyond the personal belief that our perspective is the only one

Conviction is good, but nothing reveals the authenticity, depth, and validity of both our intelligence and belief like humble conviction, born of open-minded thinking.

When we can sit with different ideas, when we can have the humility to wrestle with them or entertain them even without fully comprehending them, we exhibit a higher wisdom: one that says we are aware that ours is not the highest. Books have helped teach me that there are brilliant minds in this universe from which I will always have something to learn. 
And not just from authors of books, but from other people. People who will never write a thing. People who will maybe write many things. People who have advanced degrees and people who have no degrees. Books have helped teach me that learning is so eternal and unlimited. 

We are never finished.

I am at a point now in my life where the inner call and conviction to go live is propelled by the awareness that life is most real and most satisfying as an adventure: which does not always mean traveling or going, but seeing. The way we see is the most helpful thing take with us anywhere. 
And seeing takes time. Instant gratification is easy, but cyclical. By its nature it needs to happen over and over and over again to work, which means it is not ultimately satisfying because it does not last. Perspective is something that lasts- and depending on the one you pick, then, so does satisfaction. 

Developing our true eyes, our higher senses, through what we commit to putting in our path in this life, is the highest reward. There's something about life lived with respect and reverence for wonder- for beauty and mystery and things we 'don't know but can sense,' in a way, are good for us and worth pursuing- that brings us a depth and a joy that nothing else can. 

To go after things. To know there's an ending somewhere but to value the journey more. To trust and go, versus to know and stop. To get out of ourselves, and on to bigger things.


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