I met a lay guest on the cloister after lunch today. I’d recently picked her up from the Greyhound bus stop. We know each other well of old. Ah, hello Rev. Helen she said brightly! The Reverend Helen and I are quite often mistaken for each other. No. It’s Mugo, I respond. With a bit of a laugh about mistaken identity we chatted on about this and that as she made her way (ever-so-slowly with the aid of a walking stick) up the cloister towards the Guesthouse. Eventually the conversation drifted to matters of Buddhist practice. I know Buddha is everywhere. So why do I have to keep on coming back here? she said. Such a soft kind 80 plus face with tears and a smile at the same time. Thinking on my feet I responded, Well, when you had a car you took it in to get the oil changed and the tires checked and have a general service. Right? Same for you coming here isn’t it? I didn’t need to say much more since she got the analogy. Smiling happily, assured her coming and staying at the monastery was not a sign of weakness or faulty faith she slipped into the building. Hopefully for a nap.
Here I am again quoting from a post in Brainpickings. Yet again. This quote comes from an essay called “Flight” by Rebecca Solnit, in her collection of essays “The Faraway Nearby”
The following is taken from A Book Is a Heart That Only Beats in the Chest of Another: Rebecca Solnit on the Solitary Intimacy of Reading and Writing
Like many others who turned into writers, I disappeared into books when I was very young, disappeared into them like someone running into the woods. What surprised and still surprises me is that there was another side to the forest of stories and the solitude, that I came out that other side and met people there. Writers are solitaries by vocation and necessity. I sometimes think the test is not so much talent, which is not as rare as people think, but purpose or vocation, which manifests in part as the ability to endure a lot of solitude and keep working. Before writers are writers they are readers, living in books, through books, in the lives of others that are also the heads of others, in that act that is so intimate and yet so alone.
Well, I have been thinking of my own reading habits as a girl and teenager. OF COURSE I read books, how could I have NOT done so. The thing is I got lost in them to such a great extent – I ran into the woods alone with them, so to speak – that I quite forgot I’d had them in my hands. Such was the level of my intense level of connection with story I lost contact with everything around me.
Malcolm Saville wrote children’s adventure stories set in the area of East Sussex where I lived. I read them all probably. There were many other authors I favoured too. However everything changed one day while in Spain in my early 20’s when re reading a Daphne du Maurier. I realized the English images from the story were layered on top of what was coming into my eyes! Worse, I was an actor from the book, in costume, walking along a harbour in Santa Cruz in the Canary Islands! Clearly things had gone too far. I cut back drastically on reading from then on mostly because I started to study for a degree.
One can get lost in stories, one can become lost anywhere with anything that takes a grip. Even good and helpful pursuits.
Thanks to Cliff for the photograph.
With memories of
a rule of silence
Few mention advanced silence.
Silence while talking
Lovely to receive comments on last post. Thank you, thank you. I’ll hold off responding while I join in the retreat for the next couple of days. When I’m not sitting I’m working in the kitchen – peeling spuds, chopping apples, drying pots and pans and other such kitchen work. This change of pace and the recent rain is most welcome. Temperatures are dropping and the snow on Mt. Shasta is doing the same. Down to tree line if I remember when I last glanced at it.
I read books once pre monastic years ago. A time when physically holding something still, a book, for extended lengths of time wasn’t tiring or stressful. Or at least didn’t notice! The other day I bought two books on a whim at a charity shop and I’m nearly through the second one. No serious consequences physically or in other way that I can tell. The difference from then to now is this. I’m not devouring the books, I’m savouring them, taking small bites and chewing well! Taking in just a few pages at a sitting and not rushing on skimming lengthy descriptions to get to the action. The blueness of sky and the rasping of water over rock, the whispering wind in the quivering aspen etc. etc. Or jumping to the end to find ‘what happens’.
These particular books need nursing too – they are charity books. Paper backs are not constructed to last, my copy of Zane Grey’s Riders of the Purple Sage was published in 1990, it’s showing it’s age. Before I start to read I have to gather the loose pages into two handfuls – the binding is shot. The pages are a pleasing tone of brown, brittle to the touch and smelling as only old books can.
In my room at Shasta these past days, or weeks is it, I’ve ridden long and fast across southern Utah, listened to Lassiter’s spurs clinking across Jane Withersteen’s cool enclosed and safe courtyard surrounded by Cottonwoods and snuck up of them thievin’ rustlers holed up in Deception Pass. Zane Grey put words to the West and then we got the Western movie. Later.
You might think I’m wasting my time and that’s how I regarded books – time wasters. Until recently. There is now both a joy and an education in reading I’ve greater appreciation for and that comes from my efforts of writing this blog. Just the construction of sentences and the use of words circ 1912 when ‘Riders’ was first published is breath taking. I’d not dream of putting words together like Zane Grey does, not dare. But now I might give it a try, be more daring, more adventurous.
Somebody I know and respect said ‘Readers write and writers read’. It’s a symbiotic relationship past the obvious and there is deep purpose in reading, in writing too. This evening I bumped into a thinker and writer who answering the question. What is literature for? in an animated video. It turns out we would be lesser people in every respect for not having read books. So much for my early prejudices around reading. Reading is good for you – therefore I’ll not read! Or I’ll use reading to escape pain, well into the wee hours.
Number four reason for reading:
IT PREPARES YOU FOR FAILURE
All of our lives, one of our greatest fears is of failure, of messing up, of becoming, as the tabloids put it, “a loser.” Every day, the media takes us into stories of failure. Interestingly, a lot of literature is also about failure — in one way or another, a great many novels, plays, poems are about people who messed up… Great books don’t judge as harshly or as one-dimensionally as the media…
But the real clincher for a reason to read is this:
Literature deeply stands opposed to the dominant value system — the one that rewards money and power. Writers are on the other side — they make us sympathetic to ideas and feelings that are of deep importance but can’t afford airtime in a commercialized, status-conscious, and cynical world.
Spare a thought for those writers beavering away alone in a basement, rejections outnumbering acceptances, family and friends looking on. – Wondering, worrying some. Them writers I know are humble people and I think it is the writing that makes them so.