All the conflict and struggle going on in the world seems to me to signal that we need to change our thinking. Old, inherited forms do not work any more, but the new has not yet come to pass, and sometimes seems impossibly distant. We look to leaders to save us from this chaos, yet this too is part of the old order that must inevitably pass away. Where there was hierarchy, we need to create community; where there was division and strife, we need to find a dynamic, living harmony; where there was where there was war, we need to forge peace.
This is not accomplished through talk, through catchwords and slogans, but through the hard daily work of living together as human beings. We are distinct individuals, and yet we affect one another in innumerable ways, sometimes consciously, sometimes not; we also are affected by influences beyond our knowledge and control, and this can cause anxiety and fearful reactions. How do we enlarge our thinking to encompass all we are and can become, rather than just mindlessly repeating what has come down from the past? How do we find the courage to jump into something new, without the safety net of knowing exactly what will happen?
And what role does reading play in this journey? As should be clear to anyone who has been following this blog for a while, that’s exactly why books mean so much to me: they have the potential to help us change and grow into the future. In the pages of a book, we can explore different possibilities without the threat of outward conflict; we can encounter new ideas and test them against our judgment and experience; we can, in freedom, choose to change ourselves in order to integrate ourselves into a greater whole. As I reflected in my recent post on the novel East of Eden, this can then give us the strength to return to daily life and the baffling, often painful phenomena that confront us there.
Each person, each event, each situation is in fact a book that we need to learn how to read. For some, this activity is too frightening to bear, because it involves a loss of self; that’s why repressive societies, locked in fear and distrust, restrict and censor books and reading. The free exchange of ideas is a gift that we must not take for granted, and at this time perhaps more than ever, we need to use it to its fullest extent, finding the courage needed for true communication to take place.
Books can comfort, support, and console us, reinforcing what we already know, and that is also an important and necessary function, but applied to life will not help us move forward. We can’t any longer only relate to people who think and act as we do, or we will all die in isolation, as warring states of individual, enclosed selves. How do we break through to a higher reality? How do we learn a language beyond words? In this time of preparation for the coming of the inner light, which enters the world in the time of greatest darkness, these questions are on my mind, and I want to hear from you.
What books have helped to change your thinking? How has reading given you tools to transform the way you relate to the world?