When I was in grade school and middle school, the school libraries were filled with biographies of famous men and women. I read them all. Years later, when my wife and I first met, I learned that she also read them all. On the mundane level, some people ask us how we happen to know such a wide variety of trivia. That's where it began.
Ah, the inspiration of great biographies
More importantly, I was inspired by those journeys. It helped me to read about them. I saw Edison who, in spite of the failures of one prospective light bulb filament after another, never gave up. I saw Helen Keller who couldn't see at all, yet her perceptions of the world were often more accurate than those with 20/20 vision. Perhaps, as so many cartoons and comic strips have shown, such people had light bulbs flashing inside their heads, presenting them with ideas the rest of us were too distracted by the five senses to see. Yet, being inspired by the journey of another man or woman doesn't mean I should walk the same path. I do not want somebody to ask, "do you see what I see?" for that is not relevant to what my journey intends for me to see.
For one thing, as Joseph Campbell suggests, I should be blazing my own path. If I follow another too closely, perhaps I'm simply copying what s/he doesI rather than internalizing the true inner journey itself. Then, too, if I allow my expectations to be confined by the self-help author's experience, I am seeing nothing new, only what I have been told might be there. What a developmental limitation that is!
Coaches and other gurus who go bump in the night
These are the days of coaches, empowerment, and people talking about these current times being the moment of great spiritual changes. I cannot speak to that, though I take note of the fads. This morning, I read the review of a spiritual self-help book that was also a chronicle of the author's personal journey. The journey itself was inspiring, the reviewer said, but the spirituality was lacking.
The lack, so obvious to a reviewer reading without desperation, is common to many books about the journeys of other people that also purport to be spiritual textbooks for the rest of us. Often, the dream material and personal symbolism of the author has no world-wide usage or validation. While it makes sense within the context of one individual's spiritual and psychological life, it isn't universal.
Therein lies the problem of overly personal spiritual books. The authors often speak out of context of the whole, seldom including comparative references to religion, other spiritual "systems," mythology, archetypal dream work, or other sources that allow readers to compare and contrast the suggestions with those made by other spiritual authors. When the reader sees an affirmation using symbols and images that only have great meaning to the self-help book's author, what is s/he to do with them?
At some point, the reader must be able to say: this poetic language has no effect on my life, no matter how meaningful it was to the author; or, all I'm seeing here are platitudes rather than spiritual techniques.
Spiritual self-help books are often beautifully written and illustrated, and then blurbed and reviewed by other spiritually inclined authors. This sells books, yet with false validation. The positive blurb on the back of a book does not mean that Spiritual Author ABC actually tried the techniques of Spiritual Author XYZ and found them to actually work, much less to be more effective than widely known techniques that have been practiced for millions of people for years.
My own approach to spirituality belongs to me. Yes, you will find hints about it in my novels, but not prescriptions or recipes. I can't speak for you. No other spiritual author can speak for me, no matter how nice his or her book looks on the shelf at the local bookstore. The more I read, meditate and practice, the more my intuition tells me whether the book I'm tempted to buy really fits my journey. If not, I'll read it for the inspiration alone, which is fine as long as it doesn't become a manual.
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