As a writer and avid reader I will always love books. I love every flavor of book from twenty-page poetry chapbooks to Plumbing How-to Guides to 700-page novels. I’ve bought plenty of spiritual (aka self-help) books over the years. I don’t think I’ve ever been given any, but I’ve given plenty away. My favorite books to give away include Illusions by Richard Bach, Conversations with God by Neil Donald Walsh, There is Nothing Wrong with You by Cheri Huber, Living Deliberately by Harry Palmer, and (new one) Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. Sharing a book that offered you insights is a great pleasure, especially when the person you gift comes back to you with gratitude.
I’ve realized, though, that while reading the book sometimes does change the way you think, most of the time it is only a superficial, intellectual experience rather than a life experience. (I can’t tell you how many books warned me about that!) To get the full value of any spiritual book, I have to do the exercises, try the examples! Yes, there it is again: practice.
Here’s my mode:
- Read the passage.
- Vet it: examine it intellectually first. Really sit and think about it. Do I believe it? Is it attractive to try? Am I afraid to try it? (Fear is usually a big pointy red flashing arrow that says I should.)
- Schedule a time to do the exercise or do it right then.
- Think about what I learned from the exercise.
- Determine if this exercise could be added to my practice (daily, weekly, ad hoc, etc.)
Honestly, I don’t do this with every book, and it can mean it takes a long time to finish the book. But if the author moves me, I know I will get much more from the book if I do what they suggest. I remember Thich Nhat Hanh describing how to do a walking meditation in Peace is Every Step. His words are very powerful, but I can’t quote any of them from memory. What I do remember very clearly is putting those words into action walking down the driveway and up the street, tears streaming down my face while smiling.
I’m going to do that again right now.