I’ve spent the last few nights at a friend’s place while his housemate is away. I’m sleeping in a guest room filled with his housemate’s books—five bookcases, thirty-three shelves, filled with titles I’d have once found thrilling. It’s one of the best personal collections I’ve ever seen of books on energy work, consciousness, archetypes, stages of growth and maturation, esoteric and channeled teachings, psychology, mythology, mystery schools, healing, and the human brain. But today it all feels to me like ballast.
I’m a book person with a thirsty mind. I grew up in a house full of books and became a bookworm as soon as I learned to read. After all these years, a house without books still feels more like a hotel suite to me than a home. So it’s not the presence of books, per se, that’s bothering me. Plus, being among books such as these used to be heaven to me. What has shifted? Maybe it’s simply that the room is small, the bookcases are made of dark and heavy wood, and the books aren’t mine to browse. But I sense something else at work here.
I’ve always loved ideas, analysis, speculation—wondering about what we are, how we work, how we evolve, or don’t. Plus, I’m a writer and editor; word skills are a key professional credential in my world. This collection, however, feels like a 60-pound backpack on a day hike, or too many blankets on a soft spring night. The sheer weight of so many ideas meant to uplift us, so many confident assertions and instructions and results of research into the ways and whys of being—the weight of so much evidence of our relentless drive to know. Once, I’d have wanted to devour nearly every book here. Now all I want is a bottle of water, a sun hat, and good shoes for the day hike, and when it’s time to sleep, one or two good blankets, not a mountain of them.
We don’t know the way things are. We barely know the way we are. Yet in book after book after book, we claim so much knowledge. Why?
I don’t ask that idly. I’ve lived by why. I’ve long been driven by curiosity. I’ve a mountain of “spiritual” books waiting for me back home, all books I love or may yet come to love. But do I still need them to show me what’s essential now and what has always mattered?
In meditation, when my mind quiets enough to allow Presence to greet, enter, and fill me, it’s not more analysis, more speculation, more explanations that I’m offered. It’s more Love. It’s that simple. Love. Love that inspires me—to move, to acknowledge, to create something, to share.
I appreciate the irony that one of our best ways to share and inspire Love is through books. I’ve written one and I suspect I’ll write more. But the Presence that meets me is wordless. It’s an intimate sense of the life in everything. Sometimes I call it “the hum.” And it doesn’t speak.
A few years ago I noticed that I was learning more from noticing than from studying. Take photosynthesis, for example. The mind-boggling miracle of photosynthesis that’s occurring in the leaves of the tree next to where I sat this morning isn’t explained in any of my books. They do describe the photosynthetic process—the chemical cycles and patterns involved. Those, we understand. But the wonder of it? No. And noticing that it’s miraculous, noticing what is, seeing the beauty in the patterns and textures and movements and cycles of this astonishing planet, is teaching me more than books right now. Moments of clarity bring me knowings that bypass my earnest mental efforts to understand.
I will always love books. But compared to such moments of knowing, books are like the second-hand garments of experience. They are to life what an archeologist’s thoughtful description of a flint knife’s possible use and origin is to the actual glint of light and blood on the knife’s razor edges, the sound it makes skinning a felled deer, the smells of the mineral blood and the waiting fire. Good poetry and vivid prose can bridge that gulf—they conjure the essence of the living moments they reflect on. So I’m all for writing. But the accumulation of so much expositional information and speculation about being spiritual and human seems more deadening to me right now than enlivening. Presence keeps calling me—analytical, knowledge-seeking me—back to Itself. Back to direct experience. Back to noticing. Back to wonder.