I have about 10 books on the go at the moment.
Passing by my favourite book shop in Chiang Mai, I stop in “just to look” and admire the heavenly stacks of all-the-answers-to-my-questions, the panacea to my spiritual angst, the antidote to my existential restlessness.
(I know I’m not the only one).
Each time I come out with two or three more books, giddy as a school girl crushing on a cute boy, struck by a teensy bit of guilt about having yet another book on top of all my others.
Most recently, Ram Dass made my hit list, along with Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.
But I only just started Sri Nisargadatta’s I Am That, a must-read by the way for anyone trying to sort themselves out.
As well as Carlos Casteneda’s The Teachings of Don Juan.
See Spot Run doesn’t make the cut.
I try the good ‘ole fashioned linear reading method that used to serve me so well in the past (mostly because it conformed to the teachings of my youth), but alas…
I skip ahead. I dog-ear pages to return to. I sink my teeth into one for about 10 minutes and then realize I’m not reading the other nine books and start to get serious FOMO (that’s ‘fear of missing out’ for anyone born before 1975).
As if the other books will somehow expire before I can finish them.
As if by reading all of these books, simultaneously, I can somehow absorb all the secrets of the Universe and live happily ever after in my self-made prison of pages & paragraphs.
As if (as Ram Dass says) I may run out of The Future.
But I can’t choose. And we all know what the rotten, fetid stink of indecision smells like.
It smells like shit. But more precisely, our own shit.
Or it smells like rotten figs –– there’s a poignant quote from Syliva Plath in The Bell Jar that describes this type of situation beautifully:
“I saw my life branching out before me like the green fig tree in the story. From the tip of every branch, like a fat purple fig, a wonderful future beckoned and winked. One fig was a husband and a happy home and children, and another fig was a famous poet and another fig was a brilliant professor, and another fig was Ee Gee, the amazing editor, and another fig was Europe and Africa and South America, and another fig was Constantin and Socrates and Attila and a pack of other lovers with queer names and offbeat professions, and another fig was an Olympic lady crew champion, and beyond and above these figs were many more figs I couldn’t quite make out. I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.”
But in skipping ahead in the book (see, there are benefits to that method!) it gets a bit less tragic and a bit more real:
“I don’t know what I ate, but I felt immensely better after the first mouthful. It occurred to me that my vision of the fig tree and all the fat figs that withered and fell to earth might well have arisen from the profound void of an empty stomach.”
The point of that is this:
It doesn’t fucking matter.
None of it.
Not my neuroses about books.
Not my trying to find myself in their pages.
Not even my NOT finding myself in their pages.
I can read a book or not read a book for 10 minutes, or more, or less, and it doesn’t matter.
Because a book is just a book is just a book.
Sure, some days it’s an answer, an antidote, a panacea.
Some days it’s the whole world.
Some days it’s a life line.
Some days it’s empty words on worn pages.
Some days it just looks lovely stacked on my book shelf.
Here’s the thing:
Tomorrow, I turn 43.
Last year, when I turned 42, I thought it was a really big deal. I needed it to mean something. Ever read The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy?
Neither have I. But inside that book is a little something about the number 42 being the answer to the Universe. The number that meets all our questions with the perfect solution.
So, last year, during my rock bottom of That-Time-When-I-Fell-Apart, I thought, ah-ha! This will be the year that changes everything; 42 will be the answer to the question that has plagued me for most of my life.
(Hey, whatever works, right?)
The truth is that it WAS the answer. The other truth is that it WASN’T the answer. The other other truth is that, like the books, it doesn’t fucking matter.
Because I’ve never really known what the hell the question is. Yet, I look for an answer (anyone else get this?)
It’s just The Mind doing its ridiculous and fascinating thing. Making me believe in the significance of stuff that just is. And at the same time, making me believe in the insignificance of that which is magical.
My ex-husband used to say something that drove me to a near hissy fit, the me that is restless without a problem (or a solution for that matter) ––
It is what it is.
Now I get it, now I really get it.
It is significant and insignificant.
It is magical and completely ordinary.
It is chocolate and vanilla.
It is tragic and fortunate.
It is old and young.
It is happy and sad.
It exists and doesn’t exist.
It is both ends of the spectrum and everything in between.
It can be all. It can also be nothing. It can be all squashed up together into this big huge ball of confusion and clarity.
Maybe this seems an elementary insight at the ripe age of 43, but let me say this:
It’s one thing to know something. It’s another thing when your bones begin to understand it.
When we can let go of what we think we are, or what we think about the way things are, then we can see how they actually are.
Said the Buddha.
That’s the idea, anyways. I’m working on it (while also not working on it) 😉