How to live a thousand lives

HUMMING IN MY UNIVERSE By Jim Paredes (The Philippine Star) | Updated March 30, 2014 – 12:00am

I am told that fewer and fewer people are buying books. And, I suspect, those who do are reading less and less the challenging books written by great minds. People today want ideas presented to them in summary, for easy consumption, like articles on Facebook, and the 140-character limit of Twitter.

This is tragic.

I was at a book club gathering recently where writers were asked to give their thoughts on reading and writing, and to briefly discuss their favorite authors and books. It was such a pleasure to listen to what everyone had to say, even if some authors gave very short talks.

I have maintained a blog for 11 years now. I have also been writing this column for some seven years, and I have authored four books and plan to write more.

One thing I learned about writing is that you cannot maintain the regimen and come up with consistent output without eventually exposing yourself. In my talk, I said that writing is something like being gay. Sooner or later, you must out yourself. Your words will betray, or more accurately, liberate you. You can’t help it.

While there are myriads of subjects to write about, it won’t be long before you go beyond so-called objective writing and reveal your own thoughts, feelings and convictions. You may run far and wide, posture and hide, pretend or claim otherwise, but in the end, as a writer, you will end up confessing your life!

Reading changed my life. I can’t imagine life without it. While I have my favorites, I have read all kinds of books. I have always been interested in almost everything and that’s why I started reading at a young age.

I was introduced to reading early. As a very young boy, I read Aesop’s Fables, Hans Christian Andersen, Robert Louis Stevenson’s children’s poems, among others. At age seven or eight, I got a book on the Iliad and the Odyssey for Christmas. It had lots of drawings for young readers. I loved it and read it over and over again. I also read the Hardy Boys series. I actually had an active library card!

In high school, I read some Graham Greene and Mark Twain. I loved the dark, sad world of Edgar Alan Poe and memorized his poems and a few others. I also read The Catcher in the Rye, Catch 22, and all the readings assigned by my teachers.

In college, I encountered the works of Ayn Rand, Allan Watts, Aldous Huxley, Kahlil Gibran, Shakespeare, Amado V. Hernandez, Jose Rizal, Rio Alma, Carlos Castaneda, and many more. I never read book lists or reviews. I would go to a bookstore, browse and buy what I liked with money saved from skipping meals and soft drinks. And, often, I reread them.

One of the authors I have learned most from is Neale Donald Walsch who wrote the bestselling Conversations with God series. I read the first book at a time in my 40s when I felt lost, and I got hooked. I remember reading certain chapters and stopping to physically hug the book because my whole being resonated with what I was reading. I even invited the author to come to Manila and give a talk at the Meralco Theater.

It was wonderful spending time with Neale Donald Walsch whose books have touched the core of my being. At that time, I had three book clubs running discussing his works. I told him I had written one book and he encouraged me to write some more. He even wrote the foreword for my second book, Between Blinks.

Another author whose works and words I devour is Joseph Campbell. Someone had recommended I read The Power of Myth. Soon after, I was reading everything he wrote that I could get my hands on. I even ordered his books from the US. I am so fascinated by the wisdom of this intellectual who has a grasp of the history of civilizations, religions, myths, etc. And, antiquated as they may seem, Campbell makes these subjects interesting enough for moderns to connect to them.

His theory on everyman’s life as a hero’s journey is part of what I teach at the Ateneo. His tirades against literalism plaguing the big religions today have freed me to embrace and appreciate the greater endless mysticism of spirituality. Campbell is not an easy read, but is definitely worth the time.

The writer who has influenced me the most the past 12 years is Ken Wilber. I randomly picked up A Brief History of Everything in a bookstore one day, and after plodding through 50 or 60 pages of difficult reading, I found my bearings. I have since read practically every book and essay he has written.

Wilber is quite prolific. He writes about mysticism, ecology, spirituality, philosophy and psychology, with a touch of Zen. His work can best be summarized as “integral thinking.”

To me, Ken Wilber has gone deeper than any writer in his understanding and expression of the “inexpressibles,” the hard unanswerable questions that have fascinated and challenged mankind since the beginning of thought. And he does so with elegance, wisdom and insight. Try out his easier reads, The Simple Feeling of Being, or One Taste, and enjoy the company of his boundless consciousness.

I also appreciate the works of Eckhart Tolle whose books The Power of Now and A New Earth are truly life changing. I have attended book club meetings discussing his writings.

My last memorable read is Over the Edge of the World by Lawrence Bergreen, a fascinating but terrifying account of Magellan’s circumnavigation of the world. If you like history and are fascinated by what the early cultural encounters between East and West were like, and all the cultural trivia, this book is for you.

I often wonder what will happen if people completely stopped reading books. What kind of world would we have? What will we talk about? What will happen to conversation? If I may put it more profoundly, how will we evolve when people stop sharing big, elaborate thoughts, stories, ideas, and concepts that need greater attention span than what we are becoming less capable of having? How will we move humanity forward?

I look at reading not just as an act of gathering information but knowing and engaging with great intimacy and detail the lifework of truly interesting and evolved persons.

Books are monumental efforts. They take time, energy, engagement and great insight to create. To read them is to imbibe and share, discuss, apply and pass on their ideas to others.

I believe in the care, feeding and nurturing of our minds as much as I do the different parts of our bodies and being.

The whole idea behind reading is to have bigger more expanded lives. George R.R. Martin, writer of A Dance with Dragons, wrote, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

I think I will pass by a bookstore and acquire a few more lives.

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