Arguably the greatest character strength to develop is the love of learning (wisdom) – Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally; related to the strength of curiosity but goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows progressively. For learning lovers – reading comes first because as far as I am concerned if I had not rediscovered reading I would still be suffering in my automated ignorance and have no real aim in my life. You can read about my change of life attitude in my book -Dazed & Confused.
Now I am still relatively ignorant but I have found the perfect balance for my ignorance in it’s related opposite, knowledge. This could be simplified as knowing and not knowing – where the flexarian attitude is to find the sweet spot knowing and not knowing. I will not say wisdom because that depends on what one does with the knowledge gained and the jury is still out on that one. Yet another example of a progressive move towards wholeness by uniting opposites in a way that feels just right. The flexarian attitude acknowledges that – “It’s always both” – the answer is always both – one ceases to exist without the other.
Of all of the possible paths of progression that I will mention, reading rates highly because of a book’s infinite ability to change who we are as readers. Human beings love to know more and learn but are often too lazy to read, and the experience of school for many puts them off books for life. We would rather get bits and pieces out of context from various sources. Ignorance (not knowing) is suffering and whilst we will never cease to learn and always be ignorant of something reading goes a long way to balancing ignorance with a sprinkling of knowing. And reading a wide range of books also keeps our minds wide open to new and ever more mind-boggling ideas that eventually become the facts. Albeit such facts have a relatively short reign as facts. Nevertheless, the process continues. Fact is revealed and eventually superseded by new fact and so on. A book can be every bit as challenging for our minds and bodies as the toughest assault course is for our bodies and minds. Body and mind always working together as one because they are one body-mind. We have categorised and separated them wrongly as we love to do. One is not possible without the other. There is no physical world without the mind. Maybe that should be your first reading task – understanding what I am talking about! A good place to begin.
WHO’S IN CHARGE? by Michael S. Gazzaniga might be a good choice of book for this.
Reading can become a search for buried treasure that almost always produces a treasure of some sort. The more skilled we become at aligning our book choices in our search for knowledge, meaning and ultimately wisdom with where we are at that unique moment in time, the more productive our search becomes. However, there are those amazing moments when a book we have attempted to tackle but failed in the challenge, maybe not understanding and managing even a chapter, when picked up again sometime in the future becomes an experience of clarity and understanding. Why? Because we have changed due to our reading between the two attempts. What a fantastic feeling and evidence of the benefit of reading and progress. It is a wonderful example of the idea that when the student is ready the teacher will appear. The teacher is always present inside our books. The art is to be found in the correct interpretation of the writing.
It is also clear from the historical incidents of tyrants and institutions destroying and burning books when wishing to gain control and produce docile subjects, that books have the power to encourage original thinking, allowing us the freedom to choose the thoughts we like (opinions). It is so much easier to control the docile to think and act “normally” by conditioning them with the thoughts and ideas considered best for them and as such normal at the same time denying access to the knowledge that can free minds. Books are that powerful. I think the internet has a role to play for our rulers in turning people away from books for greater control on the web.
“It is only by enlightened people that this book can be read; the ordinary man is not made for such knowledge; philosophy will never be his lot. Those who say that there are truths which must be hidden from the people need not be alarmed; the people do not read; they work six days of the week, and on the seventh go to the inn. In a word, philosophical works are made only for philosophers, and every honest man must try to be a philosopher, without pluming himself on being one.” —Voltaire
Have things changed since Voltaire’s time. I doubt it. The information fed to the masses (us) is now more automated than ever and the behaviour more robotic. The way to freedom is through books. But they may as well be hidden for they do not get read to any extent. The ruling classes are not even bothered about censoring as they are confident in the masses laziness and indifference to reading.
In our current climate the ruling classes don’t have to be so concerned as people are either too distracted by television, phone and a million others gadgets to read at all or read hedonistic fairy tales and celebrity biographies or out of context quotes from the web. The real treasure is hidden beneath so much meaningless crap that very few truth seekers are up to the task of breaking from the norms and allowing the reading of quality books to join the dots and add some depth and meaning to life. Good books provide an endless search for answers and more questions, a good author will always leave a paper trail via references and bibliographies that will advance your progress. The ideal situation is to have so many books on your mental list and waiting to be read on your shelves or chosen e-reader that you feel you will not live long enough to gain the progress they will undoubtedly create inside of you by expanding and opening your mind in awe and wonder.
I have a kindle reader and I also buy physical books. The reader is fantastic and fast and convenient. I can have a new book in seconds. However, for me the feel of a good book cannot be replaced, with my e-reader I view all I need one page at a time. But with the live book I get the feel of the blood, sweat and tears of the author and I hold that entire experience in my hand. It is difficult to explain but my relationship and connection to the actual physical book is a much richer experience for me. Maybe it is also a resistance to technology as always being considered progress when I believe there are many instances when technology actually regresses the human organism. Technology disconnects us from being physically bound to each other and all that there is. It is impersonal. As always the answer may be in the acceptance of both in our lives. A more discerning choice of when to accept new technology and how to use it to enhance our lives. Currently, technology is taking over lives. The responsibility is ours to be strong enough not to get dragged along by the current of all that is new is better. Moderation has always been a good path to follow. I will always use book and e-reader. For me, a new or used book arriving with the mail is a moment of excitement and anticipation to rival any other. This is from a man that had not read a serious book from cover to cover until my mid-forties. I now read at least 1 or 2 books each week and cannot imagine not reading or how I managed to live previously never having read a book. I was that docile citizen, ingesting only what was fed to me through my culture and the media. A prisoner of society. My progress in the last ten years has been astronomical. Whilst not regretting the first half of my life, I feel I have only begun to choose the life that I wish to lead for the last decade. Books have opened my eyes to life and helped to explain my former life in wonderful ways. Books bring laughter and tears. Books provide optimism and motivation for any future, as knowing is what we all desire. With books we can all progress, expand and grow continuously without being informed what to think and subtly led to our opinions, which are not really ours at all. Reading keeps minds wide open and helps us to come to terms with the paradox of life once narrow mindedness becomes a thing of the past.
I always knew deep inside that I should read but considered magazines and newspapers to be sufficient. When I decided I wanted to or needed to read seriously, my life was in a state and I needed something, anything to give me the passion to live life. My passion for life had left me and I was helplessly surviving from turbulent day to turbulent day. I was seriously considering whether it was all really worth it. However, out of the blue came a book, a self-help book that whilst serious readers would feel was commercial trash, it served to turn my life around with its extremely over the top positive message. As a starting point this book was perfect for my state of mind at that time in my life. I changed my whole life on the strength of this book and have never looked back. The change made was not external although my external world changed. My world changed because I began to change myself, to progress every day where possible and my inner changes shaped my choices and decisions that affected my material world.
When I decided or was led to wanting or needing to read I remember not being able to focus very well and counting pages to see how far until I could stop at a completed chapter or how far I had read. I was unable to be mindful for very long, restless and clock watching. This was an extreme challenge and one that I see in many others today, an inability to focus. I feel this is bought on by our fast paced world setting a tempo inside of us that is unable to slow down without addictive distractions such as television, food, the internet, not to mention drugs and alcohol. The ability to read in a slow and relaxed state is paramount to remaining human through the assault to our senses from the 21st century. If we want to become more mindful, which is the fad of the moment, then learning to sit quietly and read books with no rush is the ideal place to begin. I know of people that go to workshops and retreats often but cannot read a book. Just sit in the silence and read a book. Initially our egos, feeling threatened will try everything to stop us but eventually we win through and the ego sees the benefit of reading to the organism and inner harmony is restored. Silence is a vital ingredient and once we learn to read with pleasure and our sense of time disappears as with any pastime that we engage in fully, It becomes timeless.
In the early days I don’t think I really read much of the book I had in my hands. I had to learn to focus, concentrate and engage rather than just scan the pages aimlessly. Nowadays I am much more aware (mindful) of whether I am actually reading or not and I invariably talk over what I read with Julie or myself to reinforce the new ideas and thoughts created by the words.
I believe any of us living in these high tech, fast paced times can be A.D.H.D. to a certain degree, living lives bombarded with information, flicking our attention from fidgety task to fidgety task and never really focusing our attention on one task very well. A premium has been placed on the myth of multi-tasking to the detriment of doing any tasks well. The fact is we all have a similar amount of information processing space and we are limited by our 5 – 9 bits or chunks of capacity for conscious short term attention. This information is fragile and is lost with distraction or the passing of time unless repeated and reinforced. Multi-tasking is dividing that focused attention capacity and will affect how well each task is performed until the tasks become subconscious, automatic behaviours.
Reading is best undertaken in comfort and silence. If music is playing you will be either listening or reading, each will be in competition with the other. I do play music at times but I am aware that when I read the music is ignored. So why bother and risk losing focus on good music or a good book. I play music for my 5 dogs. It relaxes them and they are less likely to break the silence with barking at any little noise.
A good book is mindfulness meditation and as such the effort to maintain focus changes your brain, helping to offset some of the turbulent distractions of normal life. Simplifying the word mindfulness is “to concentrate well on one thing at a time”. Another good phrase is “attend and stay”. Reading fits the bill. I joke with the some of the young men that I mentor that I will be teaching them to read. They look at me with horror and offended until they realise they can’t focus for more than a few minutes and after blaming the book and everything else external to them they come to accept the fact that they have never focused on a complete page, let alone a complete book. Knowing that just as I discovered in myself they read magazines, web sites, quotes and watch video and television clips. Once they realise they begin the extremely difficult process of overcoming that prevalent conditioned behaviour by learning to be present in the moment to read, think and progress as individuals. This is a massive challenge with temptation everywhere. I have watched many fail and just give up, never to know the undervalued joy of reading and progressing our minds. However, I am confident that once the seed is planted that as we mature we come to terms more with these challenges and progress accordingly.
I had a discussion with Julie, my wife recently about how long the ideal book should be. One of my books was over 750 pages “The Great Body Bible” by The Fitness Wizards (Julie and I). This book is huge and would not be an easy read on a lap. The result of our discussion was that we thought books should be shorter (-200 pages) to accommodate those just taking up the challenge. I have memories of preferring short books as ones I could complete. Completing a book is satisfying, as with any short term goal success. Julie thought that books should be short, interesting and motivate the reader in their search for knowledge, meaning and progress. I now search for longer books if I have a choice but as Julie pointed out I am not a ‘normal’ reader. The length of the book you hold in your hands will give you an idea as to the conclusion we arrived at.
Reading induces tears of joy and tears of sadness. Through Bibliotherapy reading fills in the gaps in the meaning in our lives, gaps we didn’t even realise were there until they are filled by the wisdom of another. Reading introduces the richness of language and words, making words barely comprehensible previously become clear and enlightening in the time to come as a new you emerges from your contact with the pages. It can be a difficult journey, a journey worthy of a hero. Your own personal hero’s journey, every bit as exciting as those you will read about and to know and relate to intimately. We are all embroiled in a hero’s journey called life, a journey toward wholeness. A journey with a full list of characters and adventures both inside of us and outside of us, if we can just step back and witness it.
To progress a personal philosophy for life is not possible without a unique reading journey being led by intuition and curiosity. Normally such a perceived philosophy is copied and taken from others without books. A readymade blueprint for living life handed to us and never really fitting the unique individuals we are or allowing for the fulfilment of the amazing potential we each possess.
A life view is a subtle raising of experience into personalised thoughts, memories and theories. Eventually following a period of incubation, they condense and form into a flexible life philosophy, one that is unique for each of us. Even in the unlikely event of two of us reading exactly the same books the life philosophies would still be unique as our perception and processing of the material will be unique. A philosophy is not an abstract collection of thoughts for their own sake such as those handed to individuals by institutions but it is rather the ripening of conversation, reading and experience into open minded thoughts. These thoughts become wedded to every day decisions and subject to ongoing personal analysis. Such ideas become part of our progressive identity and allow us confidence in work and life decisions. They are never final, they provide a new starting point for further wonder and exploration that reaches through science, religion and spiritual practice into the mysteries that saturate human experience. Insight will continue to come until some level of wisdom is achieved. Wisdom is arguably the achieved harmony of intellects longing for truth and the psyches acceptance of the nature of the human condition through our innate, soulful, intuitive experience. Wisdom is the fusion of intellect with soul (The innate intuitive feeling we all possess but fail to accept and nurture). Reading progresses this fusion towards wholeness.
Above all else reading teaches us the humility to value our ignorance and total lack of knowing, to know the value of harmonising this understandable ignorance with progressive knowledge (maybe wisdom) to rest in a place that is just right for now. And to learn for life.
The realisation that with all of the learning, expansion and progress we still know very little. This mixing of pride and humility will keep us grounded and in the perfect state of mind to learn and progress for as long as we are able.