Books & Literature

Stories for the Soul

For a long time, I couldn’t read books.

I’d burnt out on them after college. I’d graduated with honors, which capped a magnitude of reading hours. It was just two years after graduation that I was diagnosed with my first mental illness. I spent the next 20 years coping and recovering. A second diagnosis in 2012 amplified my challenges.

After a 2016 breakdown, I began a strict system of wellness. This included daily meditation, weekly exercise, and doing things I enjoyed – hobbies like art, writing, and reading. Books were readable again after months of mindfulness meditation – I read over a book a month last year alone. It was the first time in two decades that I could concentrate long enough to finish a novel.

Literature adds abundance to my wellness routine. Not only does it give me self-confidence knowing that I can read and comprehend complex thoughts and ideas, books help me grow as a human being. They teach me about self-compassion, help me to envision goals, inspire me to recognize my own potential, and they spark within my mind new ways of thinking.

Books and self-compassion

I wanted to learn how to become a better writer. So last December, a friend gifted me a wonderful book titled, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. On the topic of engendering compassion, Natalie Goldberg writes:

“To begin writing from our pain eventually engenders compassion for our small and groping lives. Out of this broken state there comes a tenderness for the cement below our feet, the dried grass cracking in a terrible wind. We can touch and see their special detail, the peeling paint and gray of shadows as they are – simply what they are: not bad, just part of the life around us – and love this life because it is ours and in the moment there is nothing better.”

Natalie Goldberg

When I read these words, it reinforces what I’ve learned through my own storytelling – thru public speaking, visual art, and creative writing. In sharing my own story of mental health recovery – a journey which is at times very painful, I’ve learned to accept both the highs and the lows. I’ve learned to cherish moments with family and friends, reminding myself of times where I once had no support. I’ve learned that I’m imperfect, but so is everyone else. I’ve learned that it’s possible to connect and empathize. As Brene Brown states, “We don’t have the same experiences, but we have the same emotions.”

Good books connect; they reflect our own humanness back to us.

Books, life goals, and human potential

In The Code of the Extraordinary Mind, entrepreneur Vishen Lakhiani writes:

“Choose end goals; skip means goals – End goals are the beautiful, exciting rewards of being human on planet Earth. End goals are about experiencing love, traveling around the world being truly happy, contributing to the planet because doing so gives you meaning, and learning a new skill for the pure joy of it. End goals speak to your soul. …means goals include hitting certain income levels, getting good reviews and promotions to a certain level at work, and being with one particular someone. But when means goals become your focus, you miss the point.”

Vishen Lakhiani

This is the first book I read 3 years ago. I’d felt beaten by expectations: I’d lost my job, my apartment, close relationships, and my physical and mental health. I’d felt like a failure and I was angry about it. Our society has mores and standards, and I was not meeting them. It fueled a destructive mindset and a highly traumatic year.

A disability often connotes limitations attached to one’s existence. Reading this book helped me break through the stigmatic boundaries of mental illness and see preconceptions as they were. It taught me to define my own goals, to harness the power to redefine my identity, and to know that could succeed again.

Books, new ideas, and fresh ways of thinking

Violence in the world is a result of violence in the mind. {Buddhist teaching}

I recently finished a book by Paulo Coelho, Love: Selected Quotations. Reflections and meditations on love, it’s a compilation of quotes from several of the author’s works. Here are a few:

“In order for the true energy of love to penetrate your soul, your soul must be as if you had just been born. Why are people unhappy? Because they want to imprison that energy, which is impossible.” (The Zahir)

“Every warrior of light has hurt someone he loved. That is why he is a warrior of light, because he has been through all that and yet never lost hope of being better than he is.” (The Manual of the Warrior of Light)

“If you know Love, then you also know the Soul of the World, which is made up of Love.” (The Alchemist)

Paulo Coelho

There’s a strong tendency to self-blame when we’re struggling with mental illness. Learning about love and self-compassion through literature helps me overcome self-judgement, develop self-acceptance, and understand how love changes our reality. A (self) love revolution catalyzes our human evolution – not only does it change us; it transforms the world. Love is a part of our shared experience, our common humanity.

I support self-discovery through reading. Books teach, enlighten, and make us self-reflect. Those are good things. As we begin this new year, I genuinely encourage you to grab a book – a new one or one that sits idly on your shelf. Try it out, be curious, and see what it has to offer you. It’s one writer’s perspective, so you choose what to take or leave from it. But, I can honestly state that a good book read is time well spent.

It may even cultivate in you a better sense of wellness.