Category Archives: Overcome Difficulties

Living in Books – getting lost

On display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent Belgium. Functional books!
On display at the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent Belgium. Functional books!

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.

Reflections of a reformed reader

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.

Fire! Fire! – Audio Talk

Hotei House Garden, Shasta Abbey.
Hotei House Garden, Shasta Abbey.

You can listen to a talk I gave at Shasta Abbey this morning. The title of the talk is Fire! Fire! and based on a post of the same name and last just under 30 mins. I’m in after talk shock and post retreat exhaustion so I don’t have much to say this evening.

Mountain High Valley Deep Challenge

The other day I was talking to a sangha member in England. Turns out her younger sister Anne Bates is, maybe as I write, swimming across Ullswater (a deep and cold lake in the English Lake District) then climbing a mountain (she doesn’t say which one but they are all quite lofty in those parts.) She is raising funds for pancreatic cancer research. Anne writes:

Last year, my very good friend – Lisa Wilson died from pancreatic cancer. I need to play my part in raising awareness and vital funds for research into this vile disease.

On September the 13th/14th I will be climbing a peak and swimming across Ullswater to raise money for the Pancreatic Cancer Research Charity.

This will be a huge challenge for Anne and I wish her all the good fortune in the world as she swims and climbs today in memory for her good friend Lisa. Having recently witnessed somebody coming to the very end of the process of dying from this form of cancer I can only say that any and all efforts to raise awareness and generate funds for research is laudable. And essential. Anne has raised over £500 and the amount is increasing.

This lunchtime we had a memorial meal here at Shasta Abbey for Grant who died recently of pancreatic cancer. RIP Grant, you are well remembered. The meal featured a traditional Ukrainian dish called Pierogies. We probably made enough to last us into next week! There was chocolate cake too.

Memorial meal
Memorial meal

Fire! Fire!

There was a lot of smoke in the air yesterday wafting from the Happy Camp Complex fire which is not so far away from Mt. Shasta, as the smoke blows! Mt. Shasta was hidden from view, the tree tops where holding a bit of smoke and you could smell it in the air. As the day progressed I noticed various physical symptoms such as dry eyes and nose, sneezing, headache, skin feeling creepy and my breathing becoming laboured. But what I didn’t connect with being a consequence of the smoke was a growing sense of anxiety and worry. Anxiety can attached itself to anything handy and yesterday it connected to an area of garden and the non functioning of the automatic watering system. The worry grew and grew and by the end of the day, projecting forward into the future I could see dried up azaleas on their last legs getting ready to die. All because the automatic watering system wasn’t working correctly.

By late afternoon I realized I was well out of balance. My level of anxiety was out of proportion to circumstance. I eventually said to one of the monks, I think I need to be locked up! I’d been trying to mobilise help from various monks connected with the watering system and noticed they were looking at me in a kind of ‘patient’ way! Anyway the kind and very wise monk said, Well there IS something wrong! The ancient part of your brain is registering danger. Get away, fight the fire. So with the realization that the smoke was the trigger for the over the top anxiety about the watering system and that the fires were not a threat and was being dealt with I relaxed. I let go of the near death bushes and got on with the rest of the day.

Interestingly as we all sat in the meditation hall this morning I noticed a level of internal buzz in myself. Reflecting, I realized that the fire, the burning up of vast acres of forest and the efforts of the firefighters relatively close was in some subtle way resonating in me.

Where ever one is and what ever the conditions internally and externally we will resonate with those conditions. More often than not it’s not possible to find causes to the way things are within oneself, as I did with the smoke and fire. The basic training instruction is to ‘sit still within the midst of conditions’. This does not mean one FEELS still, far from it. Sitting still is an intention not a standard to live up to and something to feel badly about when it seems we are falling short.

You might want to listen to the Dharma talk given last Sunday at Shasta Abbey called Searching For Safety given by Rev. Master Serena Seidner.