I have a lot to look at.
Both my office and my apartment are so well supplied with unread books that I’d need a good twenty years on a desert island to get through all of them. I buy a good deal of these books--more than I should--but as a magazine editor I also receive a fair amount of free review copies as well. I rip open the tan, anonymous-looking envelopes these books come in, and if the book inside looks promising I toss it on the floor behind my chair with the thought of looking more closely at it later.
The same thing happens with magazines, which come in at about the same rate as the books. Some of these magazines I subscribe to, while others just seem to show up because someone, somewhere, has decided I should receive them. I quickly flip through each new one that arrives, and if it looks like there’s an interesting article or two inside, down it goes on the floor next to the books.
Then there’s the rest of the mail. I get a lot of letters from readers--many of them asking about books I’ve mentioned in articles. How do they get a copy? Could I get one for them? I find it surprising--but also somehow likable--that so many readers of Guideposts and Angels on Earth don’t seem to know about how easy it is to find and buy books on the internet. (I sometimes think I’d be better off if I didn’t know myself.)
Speaking of the internet, needless to say plenty of stuff to read comes in each day courtesy of it as well: articles, stories, links to other articles and other stories…and emails, emails, and more emails.
Somewhere in between looking at all this material--or content, as it’s often called today--I’m called upon to produce original content of my own to add to the world’s already bulging supply. By the time I get home each night--usually with my briefcase loaded with whatever books, magazines, and printed-out stuff that I didn’t manage to get to in the course of the day--I’m so tired of producing and absorbing content that most of the time the stuff in my briefcase is still there waiting to be looked at the next day. I pull it out, throw it on the kitchen or coffee table, and head out the door to collect another day’s worth.
This sounds like I’m complaining, but the fact is I kind of like drowning in all this content. I’m used to it, and if it all dried up tomorrow I’d probably feel pretty lost.
“Spirituality” is a famously slippery word. People have spent much time--and produced much content--discussing what it is and what it isn’t. But one thing most people would agree spirituality IS about is the project of getting oneself up, out, and away from the world of content--from the endless flood of distraction that keeps us from focusing on the things that really matter.
The 17th-century French thinker Blaise Pascal, speaking from a far less content-crowded time than ours, famously said that the great majority of humankind’s problems would be solved if people could only learn how to sit quietly in a room. On days when I’m extra swamped with spirituality-related fare to read, write, edit, respond to, or otherwise process, I sometimes wonder what Pascal would make of a life like mine, and the totally spiritual--yet at the same time totally un-unspiritual--nature of its daily routine.
Of course, I’ve spent enough time reading spiritual books and articles to know that there’s another way of looking at this problem: and that is by realizing that it isn’t really a problem at all.
Why? Because from the most spiritual vantage point of all, it doesn’t matter in the least whether one’s life is tranquil and disengaged or busy and crowded from morning till night. It doesn’t because no matter how busy or un-busy, bored or excited, or even how happy or sad we are on the surface, the deepest, most essential part of ourselves is constantly and perfectly in touch with God, with the divine. Much more perfectly, in fact, than we (at least that busy, distracted surface person that most of us are most of the time) could ever even imagine.
From T.S. Eliot (who in his Four Quartets calls it “release from the inner and the outer compulsion”) to Eckhart Tolle (who in The Power of Now calls it “freedom from psychological time”) I’ve read enough about this insight into the fact that I am FREE ALREADY from all the nonsense and distraction in my life, free from everything that so doggedly and mercilessly seems to keep me alienated from who and what I really am--that I’m almost starting to believe it.
Almost. And it could be the very next book, magazine, or email I open that will finally push me over the edge and make me know it for sure.