I used to bury myself in books.
Stacks and stacks of books that I carried around the house from room to room. Stacks that lived next to my bed—there when I went to sleep, there when I woke up.
I’ve never been the kind of person who reads just one book at a time. I like having options—various lengths and genres to fit into the pockets of my physical and emotional life.
Books are comforting.
Even as a child I remember turning to my Girl Scout handbook when my life felt chaotic. I’d turn to the chapter on cleaning and organizing my room and I would instantly be soothed, even if I didn’t follow through and actually clean my own room. Just having the words there, guiding me into some semblance of peace and order was enough.
As an adult when I am scattered, emotionally thin or spiritually drawn I still seek solace in books. I pull together a stack of titles that speak to me, dipping into them, frantically looking for the key that will lift me out of whatever particular funk I’m experiencing: creative, emotional, physical, spiritual.
Name the funk and I have an appropriate book to turn to.
It’s not really writer’s block. A block feels like I have something to say and am just afraid to say it. A writing funk feels more like ennui—a general malaise that settles over me leaving with no desire to pick up a pen or sit at the keyboard.
When in a writing funk I turn toward old friends, the writers who helped set me on this path in the first place. Writers who never fail to inspire me to pick up a pen, who make writing fun again and who acknowledge how soul-sucking hard it can be at times.
“Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott
“Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg
“Page After Page” by Heather Sellers
“Ron Carlson Writes a Story” by Ron Carlson
A physical funk occurs when I have been neglecting my body’s needs or just overriding what it is calling for: not enough exercise or fresh air or too much sugar or wine.
I am getting better at recognizing this state and have learned to roll out my mat and do something, anything, even if it’s just child’s Pose. Something to stretch my body and open the energy lines.
“Healthy Living from the Inside Out” by Mariel Hemingway
“Quantum Wellness” by Kathy Freston
“A Woman’s Wisdom” by Christiane Northrup
There are times when my emotions either take over or I try to ignore or suppress them. Either way, I’m screwed. I don’t believe in being happy every second of the day. That’s not realistic or even desired. But when I find that I’ve been hibernating in front of the TV for too many hours with the curtains closed I know something needs to shift.
“The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown
This particular ennui will often appear as a veil separating me from my authentic self, leaving me slightly removed from my life, my spirit. It’s that acute awareness of my aloneness in the world—just part of the human condition.
Anything by Pema Chodron
“The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle
“The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz
Over the years books became a barometer of my soul.
Name a self-help book and I’ve probably bought it and read it or bought it and not read it.
Every time I think that this book will be the one.
The one to fix me.
To solve all my problems.
This was especially true with writing books. This one will unlock the mystery and allow me to sit at my desk every single day of my life while gorgeous, meaningful prose spilled forth. Ha. Not so much.
All that those writing books taught me was that there are no secret keys. That what works for one writer does not necessarily work for another. The one important thing I took away is that my struggle is not unique. And not feeling all alone is half the battle.
The same with self-help books. There are entire sections in bookstores and on-line venues devoted solely to self-help (One Spirit, Sounds True, Hay House). What does that tell me? That I am not alone.
That part of being human is this urge to find meaning. To find a purpose.
This tendency to bury myself in books designed to fix me changed once I took Yoga Teacher Training. I began to notice that I no longer founded myself scouring my bookshelves.
I noticed that I began completely ignoring the self-help section in the bookstore.
I noticed that if I just became aware of the desire to immerse myself in a stack of books that was enough to change the dynamic. I could feel the feeling instead of trying to immediately fix it.
Now, there is nothing inherently wrong with reading. I think everybody should read much more than they do. But the first time I had an inkling that there might be such a thing as “too much reading” was when I picked up The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. One of the tasks was a week of reading deprivation.
What? No reading? Was she kidding? What’s wrong with reading?
Well, for a blocked artist, a lot apparently. Cameron says, “For most artists, words are like tiny tranquilizers.” And that by not reading we are cast into our inner silence where, “our own art, our own thoughts and feelings, will begin to nudge aside the sludge of blockage, to loosen it and move it upward and outward until once again our well is running freely.”
Hmmm… tiny tranquilizers, huh? I could actually relate to that. If I binged on reading or buried myself in a stack of books, flitting from one to the next, it had the hint of addiction, of desperation, looking for that one hit that would calm me down, soothe me.
Okay, so maybe she was on to something.
Years later, I can see she was definitely onto something. Through YTT I’ve learned to be mindful of my feelings, my emotions, my experiences. I’ve learned that, as Joel Kramer writes, “At its core, yoga is a process that involves confronting your limits and transcending them.”
Now I can clearly see how books have indeed become a barometer of my soul, letting me know when I am out of balance and that what I need, instead of gorging on another person’s words, is silence.
Silence to confront my limits.
Silence to transcend my limits.
I need stillness.
Stillness inside and out to be able hear the answers.
Answers that have been there all along.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: Porsche Brousseau via Flickr