There are so many wonderful books out there. But I suppose, like people in our lives, only a few deeply touch us. There have been many books that have influenced me profoundly. One book that deeply affected me was called “The Power of Myth with Joseph Campbell and Bill Moyers”. It was actually a PBS television series. I think what moved me so much about the book and the series of interviews on video was that it helped me see how important the literature of the spirit is to young people trying to find meaning in a world which is at once chaotic and materialistic. It helped me see that all of us, who are interested in finding meaning and value in our lives, must go on a hero quest; a journey into the mythic realm. Transformation of consciousness is not a simple matter but that is what the myths of different cultures are all about and it is what we must examine if we wish to get to the core of what it means to be alive.
To find a meaningful purpose we have to find ourselves…and for that we need to decipher our
make-up. We need to access the literature of spirit ; the language of myths and dreams. Joseph Campbell said that: “Myths are public dreams, dreams are private myths.” When I discovered Campbell, I began to see the importance of comparative mythology in a world that has - economically and politically - become a global village. A new myth needs to arise out of the new world order to unite us as one family - the family of man. But such a myth can only come from an understanding of the deep challenges that lie embedded in the stories of the rich cultural traditions of the world. Campbell points out that: “One of our problems today is that we are not acquainted well acquainted with the literature of the spirit…What's moving people's lives is the stock market and the baseball scores. What are people excited about? It's a totally materialistic level that has taken over the world. There isn't even an ideal that anybody's fighting for.”
So we must have goals, focus, interest. All of that is essential. But it's not something that we can impose on ourselves from outside. Those things have to come from within. Finding out what it is that inspires and moves us takes careful listening and observation of ourselves. When young Native American men were initiated into the ways of manhood they were guided with this advice: "As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It's not as wide as you think."
Campbell believed passionately that we must follow that thing which gives we love. He called it "following your bliss." He said, "The heroic life is living the individual adventure. There is no security in following the call to adventure. Nothing is exciting if you know what the outcome is going to be...You enter the forest at the darkest point, where there is no path. Where there is a way or path, it is someone else's path. You are not on your own path. If you follow someone else's way, you are not going to realize your potential." He warns us that what we don't experience positively we will experience negatively, that when challenges come getting a comedic view of our situation gives us spiritual distance...having a sense of humor saves us.
I think I was most moved by Campbell because he helped me see that society is not particularly interested in the individual finding himself. Society is interested in profits and jobs. That's necessary of course and perfectly fine. However, life is much deeper than that and we forget it at our peril. The mind has enormous potential but it can be easily stifled by routine, temptation and half-hearted efforts to discover what is important within us. Campbell points out that "the goal of the hero trip down to the jewel point is to find those levels in the psyche that open, open, open and finally open to the mystery of your Self being Buddha Consciousness or the Christ." That's the journey which all of us have to take. It is all about finding that state of grace, the still point in your mind where commitment drops away.
I suppose the other books that have influenced me are the wonderful “Yoga Sutras” by Patanjali. They seem to be the the most comprehensive biography of mankind's catalog of shortcomings and potentials that it is possible to find. Jiddu Krishnamurti has also had a profound impact on me. His conversations in "The Awakening of Intelligence" - particularly the closing chapters with David Bohm are so clear , insightful and sane. Biographies of Abraham Lincoln as well as his own writings have inpsired me too. Lincoln was a man of tremendous vision and wisdom. I love reading about his challenges on my dark days. It helps me to put things into a bigger perspective. The poetry of Walt Whitman and the wandering observations of Henry David Thoreau give me hope for the future of man. For me, they are two of the most important voices of the new world. "The Ecology of Commerce" by Paul Hawken is the kind of book which should be taught in business schools. If we could only follow Hawken's visionary approach to business.
In the world of fiction I have been moved by many books. I think "The Kite Runner" stands out though. It's a chronicle of life in Afghanistan in modern times. When I think of all the terrible things that are happening in our world this book seems go to the heart of problem. It doesn't offer solutions. It just paints the problems in a very brilliant way. Man's inhumanity to man, the clash of cultures, racism, exploitation...the old and the new. When I read it I was deeply moved. It told such a touching and human story. It left me wondering how Afghanistan will ever heal, how man's intolerance of difference will ever be overcome...and in the contemporary situation thinking along those lines is very important. I also immensely enjoyed "The Count of Monte Cristo". It's a work of genius.It makes us confront the meaning of human destiny and forgiveness in a very original way. Finally, one of the books I most treasure is "West with the Night" by Beryl Markham. She only wrote one book yet Hemmingway said she wrote better than he did. And I agree. It's a beautiful story about the early days of the airplane in Africa. But it's more than that.
"You can live a lifetime and, at the end of it, know more about other people than you know about yourself. You learn to watch other people, but you never watch yourself because you strive against loneliness. If you read a book,... you are avoiding yourself. The abhorrence of loneliness is as natural as wanting to live at all. If it were otherwise, men would never have bothered to make an alphabet, nor to have fashioned words out of what were only animal sounds."
The book describes the thrills and dangers of hunting on the African plains, then shifts to explore the different qualities of silence or what it is like to fly alone over water for forty hours:
"Being alone in an aeroplane for even so short a time as a night and a day, irrevocably alone, with nothing to observe but your instruments and your own hands in the semi-darkness, nothing to contemplate but your own small courage....such an experience can be as startling as the first awareness of a stranger walking by your side at night. You are the stranger."
Discovering the stranger within, for me at least, is what life is really about. This is because I am of the conviction that if we know ourselves we can be a light to others. It is neither easy or difficult. We have to learn to go beyond the pairs of opposites to find out what is important.The challenge is to find our way (not imitate someone else's way). It’s not something which can be fomulated. It takes a lot of honesty, reflection and hard work. It takes guts and a lot of determination.
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