By Duane Toops
The way we consume a book says a lot about the book, but it also says a lot about us.
Some books we read voraciously. We devour them with a carnivorous fervency because it feeds and satisfies some hungry and hollow part of ourselves we didn’t know was starving.
Some books we take in slowly. Nibbling away at them bit by bit, a little at a time, because bitter truths are an acquired taste, and our palette is still unaccustomed to the astringent acidity of all that we cannot yet accept or understand. Some books are harder to swallow and difficult to finish, but, even these books teach us something about who we are.
What they can’t provide, shows us what we crave; perhaps even what we need.
Radhule Weininger’s book Heart Medicine is precisely this kind of book for me.
Weininger explains that “There is an inherent, underlying suffering at the core of human nature that is released to the surface” whenever we incur traumas of various kinds and severity. The author points out that “Trauma is,” itself, “a response to a deeply distressing experience or event that overwhelms our ability to cope.”
She goes on to say that, although “We may think that trauma is only a story about the past”, in fact, it “continues to exist in the present.” It does so through the emergence of habitually perpetuated actions that are harmful and often self-destructive. Weininger refers to these habits of behavior as “Long-standing, Recurrent, Painful Patterns, of hurt” or “LRPPs.” Recognizing, acknowledging, and coming to terms with our “LRPPs” is, thus, both the focus and locus of the book.
I immediately felt a connection to the subject matter of the book.
My scars are always close at hand. And, the means by which I consistently negotiate my days is a highly structured dance I perform in an attempt to weave through the world while guarding the soft pale tissue of the tender skin covered wounds I carry.
I have been and still am an overly-ambitious workaholic with unrealistically high demands and expectations for myself and my work. I also have—and still do suffer from—depression. In many cases, the two ravenously feed off of one another. I have experienced moments of sheer devastating loss and irreparable damage. Moments of utter and absolute darkness. Moments that never feel like moments but lifetimes lived in the shadow of an inexplicable terror that casts the world into varying shades of night.
I am so acquainted with the experiences she describes that I had high hopes for the book. I thought perhaps it might give voice to the silent aches still lingering in me. I thought that maybe it just might shed some light on the darkened places that I still harbor. But it didn’t quite do that.
The emotional weight of these experiences seem to be missing from the writing. The tone is prosaic, distant, and detached. It is written with the voice of one who is well—someone who is, perhaps, too fully mended—one who has recovered, and who is far on the other side of a cataclysmic crash; as if it all were a distant memory. But, perhaps this is more indicative of my own biases and desires regarding books.
Some of us need to hear the voice of one who knows the taste of suffering because they still have blood in their teeth. Some of us need to hear truth from someone who is still limping. I need to be tended to by healers who are still wounded, still broken, still fractured and reeling.
We often talk about books in binary terms of good books or bad books; the books we liked and the books we didn’t.
But, the most important question we ask in considering a book isn’t whether we liked it or not. Or ,whether we thought it was good or not, but whether the book brought to light some part of us or not?
Was our awareness of ourselves and the world altered in some way for having read it? Did it take us somewhere we may never have gone had we not traversed it’s pages? When we crack the spine of a book, does it also crack open a closed off area of who we are?
Author Steve Almond says that “the essential work of literary art” is to “make us more human than we were before.” Books are supposed to do something. They are supposed to do something to us, in us, and, perhaps, even through us.
Almond writes, “we need books…because we are all in the private kingdom of our hearts, desperate for the company of a wise, true, friend. Someone who isn’t embarrassed by our emotions or her own, who recognizes that life is short, and that all we have to offer in the end is love.”
Heart Medicine may have not said anything I didn’t already know, or hadn’t already heard before, but it offered me a reminder—a reminder of something I should never have forgotten, and that I desperately need to remember now: “At the core of a LRPP is this primal fear and longing for belonging.”
Weininger writes that “None of us knows for sure how the universe unfolds, nor how we as humans are situated in time and space.” We may not know who we are, why we’re here, for how long, or much of anything else for that matter, but the one thing we do know amongst all the things we don’t, is that, no matter how separate or isolated we may feel, we are here together; bonded to one another by the mutual crisis of our human short-sightedness.
We are beings in relation; an interwoven ecology of aliveness; a conspicuous community of interbeing.
We are the whole world made miniature. We are each comprised of the entire cosmos intricately and meticulously condensed to person sized scale. There is always, and at all times, a reciprocal exchange taking place between ourselves and the world in which we all comprise together.
In her Forward to Heart Medicine, Joanna Macy says that “My freedom is your freedom. My freedom is our freedom. The freer I am, the freer you are, the freer we all are.”
When one of us wakes up, we all wake up. When one of us comes alive, everything comes to life. Macy goes on to say that it is “not my freedom first then yours. Not inner work first, then outer work later. Not self-care first, then care for the world afterwards. Rather, our freedom. Only together, only and always together.”
To open ourselves is to open ourselves to one another in total, it is to open and expand the breathing fecundity of all that we are coterminous with. It is to break the illusory bounds and borders between us, knowing that as we each become bigger, the whole world becomes bigger too.
We rise and fall, crest and collapse, we run aground and we get back up, never alone, but together, ever and always as one.
Photo: Shambhala Publications
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