I have a love-hate relationship with the self-help section of the bookstore.
A part of me loves to be self-indulgent and spend an entire afternoon in deep introspection, analyzing my own behavioural and thought patterns, and trying to gain insight into my twisted mind.
Yet a part of me is turned off by the content of many books: a watered down version of wisdom discovered thousands of years ago, but pretending to be a new idea.
Mountains of books on how to be happy. Millions of dollars poured into “happiness research.”
We do we try to re-invent the wheel?
Why do we disregard the ancient wisdom in traditions like Buddhism and Hinduism (and probably lots of others that I’m not familiar with)? Why don’t we stand on the shoulders of these giants?
As I read these self-help books (and I’ve read a lot of them), I can always boil down the content (of the good ones) to the same wisdom found in those ancient traditions.
And it all boils down to a few sparse, totally secular lines.
But there is this huge industry of regurgitating this wisdom (at best) and re-packaging it.
There’s always a new book out there, claiming to hold within its pages the key to freedom and happiness (to joy, to romance, to financial freedom, to fill-in-the-blank…).
One week the best-seller is written in the gentle voice of a sage monk pictured on the cover in his saffron robes with the most serene smile. Another week it’s a book full of f-bombs, making the information sound fresh and hip.
Do we really need all this?
Everything you need to know to be free and happy could fit into a pamphlet!
But pamphlets aren’t very sexy, are they? I guess they wouldn’t make a lot of money either.
(What would the pamphlet say? I dare you to write your own. A cheat-sheet. A list of reminders. Mantras. Affirmations. A love letter to yourself. I have mine, and I’ll post it in the comments below. For me, it’s basically a series of cliche phrases that point to equanimity.)
If we don’t feel free or happy, I don’t think it’s for lack of information (especially if you’ve already read a few books or introspected a bit). It’s for lack of integration. What we need is practice to change the mental habits that lead to discontent and create new neural pathways that lead to a better experience. And inspiration to lift us up (beyond a temporary feel-good buzz), and energize us to find the discipline it takes to make these lasting changes.
But thinking that a book (or the next link, or the next great guru), is going to reveal a key piece of information to make it all better is misguided. It sends us on a wild goose chase of constant grasping for something, not unlike an addiction, which is the very source of our discontent — the delusion that we need anything from the outside.
There are much better reasons to read thousands of pages (or listen to hours of talk or go to a seminar or make a pilgrimage). Perhaps the best reason to do any of these things — or anything at all! — is not to have some secret teaching revealed to us, but perhaps to find ourselves in a space (and state) where we are receptive to the truths and lessons, where we recall what we already know to be true, possibly to gain better understanding, and above all,
TO SET A FIRE TO OUR SOULS AND BE INSPIRED
to do the work
to practice to transform our minds.
And that is why the answer is always meditate more — whatever your version of meditation is.
Where is the space, what is the activity, who are the people… what is that thing, that puts you in a state where you feel connected and aligned with all the wisdom you already hold inside, where you feel energized, where you have clarity?
Do more of that.