The Tao of Reading

Photo taken at Ernesto Neto's exhibition, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, 2016.

Photo taken at Ernesto Neto's exhibition, Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art, 2016.

There can never be too many good books on the go at any one time. The only rule is to make sure they treat different subjects, or at least offer different viewpoints, so that there is a proper foment of ideas going on. A conversation takes place between them, and the reader gets to listen in. Exhilarating. To Read is to Fly introduced a trio of books to dive into, and here are another three, keeping the above rule in mind.

Great traveller and curmudgeon Paul Theroux came up with the Tao of Travel in 2011, to celebrate half a century on the road. It's a compendium of writings and observations on travel and, particularly, fellow-travellers. He exposes all the tricks of the trade: Walden, the "last word in solitude", was written at Thoreau's cabin which was "only a mile and a half from his house in Connecticut where his adoring mother waited, baking pies for him and doing his laundry". Bruce Chatwin, the great romantic, often wrote about travelling light, but one of his travelling companions, "seeing Chatwin's typewriter and pyjamas and book bags on an Indian train, said: "It was like travelling with Garbo."" The things a travel writer hides, describe what he aspires to be: noble, free, solitary, brave. There are also "Imaginary Journeys", "Travellers' Bliss", "Evocative Names, Disappointing Places" and "Fears, Neuroses and Other Conditions". If it weren't for the whiff of desperate cynicism prevalent in all of Theroux's books, it would be a delightful read.  

The other two books I've been dipping into appear completely at odds, but share one crucial ingredient: they look at the world differently, force you to shake loose of assumptions. In the first case, quite literally: Bradford Keeney's Shaking Out the Spirits is, as the subtitle says, A Psychotherapist's Entry into the Healing Mysteries of Global Shamanism. Keeney began as a systemic therapist and then plunged deep into the Divine. He followed with amazing single-mindedness his every dream and vision and "message from the spirit world", met a great number of shamans and healers of primal cultures, and participated in rituals and vision work all over the world. He describes the rituals and his visions in careful detail - many involve uncontrolled shaking of his limbs, hence the name. 

Even if one is not willing to swallow his basic tenet that traditional psychotherapy is useless because it puts aside the mystical element and works only on the level of the mind, and even if some readers may feel revulsion or fright at the graphic descriptions of spiritual experiences, his key message rings out true and clear: we can not afford to lose the wisdom inherent in primal mystical traditions, and must come to the crossroads where all religious traditions meet. The connection with Divine has to be strengthened, and the bearers of traditional tribal knowledge, be they Native American, Bushman or whatever, must be supported and their message must be heard and acted upon.

The last book of the bunch is Tim Ferriss' The 4-Hour Work Week. Yes, I know, I know, everybody else read it in 2007, but I'm loving it now. The point is not whether every single one of his recommendations on "joining the New Rich" is workable for every reader. What he brings to the table is a refreshing way of looking at the myriad options that a digitally-fueled lifestyle presents, and forces you to rethink your own limited conception of what you "have" to do and can do. He was among the first to understand this and share that understanding in a compelling way. Since the book was published, a great many other exciting options for organising one's life on a global format have emerged, such as co-working and co-living spaces. The same subject is explored in this Fast Company article.

Reading is great. How else can one spend time with Chaplin and Cocteau on a ship from Hong Kong, join a sweat lodge with Bradford Keeney and a Lakota heyoka, and plan a series of mini-retirements and short work bursts for the next twenty-five years, all in the space of a weekend?