Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Reading is Fundamental


"A second area of craving is the desire to know more, accelerated by the information technology now widely available to the general public...There is indeed a certain satisfaction in the acquisition of new knowledge...If we dispassionately survey our contemporary world, we cannot help but notice the stark contrast between our ideal of universal happiness--the expected outcome of more knowledge and mastery over nature--and the actual realities of our global situation...All this indicates that we have not been able to harness our knowledge to provide the wisdom we need to live well and be genuinely happy as a global community."--From "The Inner Pursuit of Happiness" by Ruben L. F. Habito, an essay in Hooked! Buddhist Writings on Greed, Desire, and the Urge to Consume

When I die, I'd like my headstone to be in the shape of a book, and for the inscription to read "She loved, she lost, she read lots of books." Or something like that; hopefully I have many years to perfect the quote.

I love books. When visiting a new place, some people barhop; I bookstore hop. The acquisition of new books is a thrill like a tingle down to my toes. But it's not just book collecting--I want to read as many books as I can. I lament that I'm not a faster reader. There is so much I want to know about, and fictional places I want to visit (with the exception of science fiction & fantasy. I'm not into spaceships or hobbits.) When I was a teenager, books were my refuge from a reality that included braces, frizzy hair, angst, and Geometry. As an adult working in publishing, reading is one of my favorite parts of the job--except that time I had to read The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, what schlock!

But I know I can't find all the answers in a book. I don't want to be Owl from Winnie the Pooh, always espousing knowledge (sometimes questionable) that I haven't learned from true experience. It's like what I was talking about when I referred to the man beating the dog, and how I didn't understand how sending lovingkindness to the man and dog would help the situation much. Knowledge is not always power. Knowledge + action is power. Otherwise, I'm afraid I'm guilty of what Chogyam Trungpa refers to as spiritual materialism, the collection of knowledge as part of ego's display.

That doesn't mean I'm negating in any way the value of reading. I first learned about Boston from reading Lois Lowry's Antastasia series. I learned proper grammar could be fun from The Elements of Style. I learned where to get the best burritos in San Francisco from Lonely Planet San Francisco (La Taqueria on 24th and Mission). And I learned what it's like to be a Macy's Santa, a struggling alcoholic, a spirited governess, and an anorexic sorority sister from books (all things I wouldn't necessarily want to learn from experience.)

Now I'm learning, among other things, Buddhism. Yes, I'm starting out by reading, having not tried meditation again in several months. But I'm hoping to use what I'm learning in my daily life--in how I treat myself, how I treat other people, and how I respond to the world I'm lucky enough to be living in.

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