Friday, September 25, 2015

How to Get Personal Revelation from Books

So, I have a thing for books. I typically read four to eight books at a time, and the bookshelves in my room are so full that I regularly have to take less essential junk out to make room for new books. Here's a picture of my non-fiction shelf, if you're curious:

I've read so many of these books that I make it a goal to revisit the ones I've already finished. To that end, I'll thoroughly annotate books I read to make sure that I know where my eyes should "fall" when thumbing through them. But a year or two ago, I began noticing an odd pattern: the books I revisited and the insights I remembered from them seemed to be exactly what I needed in that time of my life. It wasn't by deliberate action that this happened, of course; my decision to pick up a book that would later prove helpful came just as a spur of the moment impulse, a thought like "wouldn't it be nice to read that again?"

But as time went on, I started to observe my thoughts and feelings leading up to choosing that helpful book. I discovered that helpful books "call out to me." Whether it's the color of the spine or feelings I associate with the book, my mind will "catch hold" on something it signifies to me and make it seem more interesting that it normally does. It's almost like the book is "glowing" with significance, whereas others just seem the way they are by default.

Experimenting with this process, I discovered something else: if I let my unconscious mind take over when thumbing through the book, I'll usually land on the page that helps me the most. Here my habit for annotating comes in especially useful: if I flip to the right page, the underlines, boxes, and notes in the margins point me to what's most significant in that general area.

Realizing the potential in this phenomenon, I decided to use it consciously. For the past few weeks, I've begun most days by going over to my bookshelves, seeing which books have started "calling to me," and bringing them over to my desk. There, I thumb through the books, glean what it is I'm supposed to learn from them, and write those ideas down in an electronic notebook. To give you an idea of what this process is like, here's a brief excerpt from that journal:
The Qur'an: The alternation of day and night is a lesson to learn from God for those who have eyes to see. Night invariably follows day, but day invariably follows night. Night and day--sadness and happiness, pain and pleasure, etc.--are always together. Reference Heidegger, Hillman and Angels on heaven and hell. / The Crucible of Doubt: This life's uncertainty and estrangement is actually a salvation, one from the eternal stasis of Eden. This life's absurdity is what I need to grow, but not only that--it is what manifests the joy. Reference the above Qur'an quote and the Magician chapter of the Red Book on magic. / Emerson: Nature embosoms us all--she nourishes us and gives a new day to us every time we fall. We are continuallly in her womb. Poetry and philosophy reveal the truth and beauty behind the world, which are really one and the same. Truth and beauty are two sides of the same. / What We Talk about When We Talk about God: God is bigger and better and more awe-inspiring than we can comprehend at any moment. We need steps to open our minds to it. This is the day and the night, alternating so that I can be freed by each night.
What was amazing about this particular use of my technique--and has been happening increasingly often--is that it all centered around a common theme, in this case how opposites and duality clearly manifest the whole. I came to the conclusion that some power is using these books to communicate certain ideas to me that I need to know. And I don't doubt for a minute that this power is God.

The point I'm trying to make is that this practice is really a method of personal revelation. I go to God with a question (either conscious or unconscious), and He uses the means at His disposal to communicate the answer to me. As Nephi says in the Book of Mormon: "the Lord God...speaketh unto men according to their language, unto their understanding," and I can't think of a language I speak better than the one used in the books I love reading! I sometimes wonder if God "led" me to this practice by giving me the impulse to buy all my books and to annotate them. But one thing's for certain: it's now a huge blessing in my life.

In conclusion, I'd encourage you to look for ways God can speak to you, especially those unique to you and your interests. Who knows? Maybe He'll speak to you in the words you pick up from others' conversations as you walk through a public place. Maybe He'll speak to you through the lyrics of songs that get stuck in your head for no apparent reason. I think all of these things and more are possible. Anyway, thanks for reading! I'm off to do some reading of my own.

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