Written for lovers of literature interested in self-actualization, Literature: How to Read and Understand the World teaches readers how to derive principles of wisdom from literature and apply them to their lives. The book achieves this through a series of five essential steps, including identifying with literary characters, aggregating principles of wisdom from their experience, and applying those principles to readers’ lives. Along the way, the author reveals his own transformation through this process. Literature: How to Read and Understand the World will help you to enrich your life and world!
Over the next several months, I will be releasing excerpts from the book along with questions to keep readers thinking after reading the posts. If you are intrigued by what you read, please share with a friend!
What are the similarities between a human journey and the journey of a character in a work of literature? In this question, we internalize the final lesson of Community Mapping, and perhaps the final and deepest lesson of our entire process of reading literature: like the friends and relations with whom we share wisdom, we ourselves are as characters in a story—no better, no different. Just like characters in a story, we have unique backgrounds which determine our biases and limitations, and we cast other people as enemies, saviors, lovers, foils, and sages—thus victimizing ourselves to predetermined fates. Like the characters in a story, it is only through trafficking in other stories—through sharing our stories with others, and having others share theirs with us—that we become able to break the patterns in our stories, and thus to exercise anything approximating real freedom. However, this process is only ever momentary; in final regard, we never rest anywhere but on the field that is life, losing sight of the complete picture and instead seeing only that swath of field which stands before us. That is, we never really stand on the Balcony.
But wait, I thought this whole book’s problem was that you, the author, spent years of your life on the Balcony!
Well, sort of, but I also stood on the field with respect to a much larger force. That is, even if I felt an impulse to constantly reassert my position on the Balcony, that was only because of other elements of my story, elements with respect to which I was positioned firmly on the field. For instance, I had divorced parents. This made me unsure of myself in intimate relationships, convinced I would inevitably screw something up and thus reproduce my parents’ divorce. As such, I avoided intimacy altogether, instead couching myself in academic habits of criticism. But in a way, I was still on the field: I was simply acting out the common, predictable story of a child of divorced parents.
There was also something deeper than my parents’ divorce at play: it was the fear of vulnerability that all human beings suffer from, and that beings beyond the human realm suffer from too. If I was really vulnerable with someone, what if they didn’t like me? What if they broke up with me, broke my heart? Worse yet, what if I chose the wrong person to be with for the rest of my life, wound up in an undesirable relationship? Wouldn’t I then feel stupid?
Asking questions like these through my process of reading literature, I began to realize that my insecurities were no different from those of anyone else, which meant I had never been and never could be on the Balcony—I would only ever have my limited perspective of humanity. As such, I became able to forgive myself for all that had happened in the past, the ways I’d judged others, isolated myself, undermined the ambitions and values of my life. Through years’ long processes of healing, I became able to see myself as just another person and, in this regard, one from whom it was ridiculous to expect perfection. Over time, the Story of Perfection vanished entirely.
Have you ever considered yourself as a character in a story? Have you ever considered that everything about you, including your feeling that you are in control of your life, is in fact produced by some greater force? Has this inspired humility? Forgiveness? Acceptance? Perhaps a sense of anxiety? Why would it be important to forgive ourselves for being exactly who we are? For more on these topics, please follow my blog or grab a copy of the book for yourself.