Writing takes me deeply into the labyrinth of myself and then has me weaving my discoveries into the mysterious and complex world of language and communication. As challenging as it can be to bring these two worlds together into some form of coherence, I love the entire endeavor.
But why write an entire book, you may wonder?
Recently my husband and I visited one of the oldest libraries in the world at The University of Coimbra in Portugal. It holds sixty thousand books, dating from the 16th century to the 18th century, on a wide variety of topics that are still consulted and referenced. Stepping into this library was like entering a time warp.
I’ve always loved books. As a kid I organized our entire family book collection into a home library, assigning each book a Dewey decimal number on a file card that I placed neatly into a beautiful wooden box.
As the public is not allowed to take photos of the Coimbra inner sanctum, to absorb the magic of the place I relied on my eyes to capture the patterns of stacks and rows in a neural memory. I rested my attention for a while on the ladders — well stationed along the walls of shelves — ready to glide along an upper railing in order to help the reader access books closest to the ceiling. “They’re like stairways to heaven,” I thought.
The wood smelled oaky and ancient, and the thick concrete walls made it feel like we were in a tomb. Standing there mesmerized, I realized how easy it is to take books for granted.
Truth is I take a lot for granted.
Seldom do I consider what daily life was like for my ancestors without the modern conveniences and commodities that I am so accustomed to. They had no washing machines. No refrigerators. No lights. No cell phones. No books.
What feels unfortunate about this is …
We live in an age when taking things for granted is natural. While on the one hand, considering the past can wax nostalgic or end up being downright irrelevant, this overall attitude appears to be leading humanity into some dark alleys that may provide no exit.
Which brings me to one of the reasons I wrote another book: to contribute something worthwhile to help shake us from our sleepwalking — to point us towards the consideration that so much of what we have is not a given and that much of it is slipping away.
Most future thinkers, historians, and experts in both hard and soft sciences agree that as a species we are on the brink of a major transition — either towards extinction or towards radical simplification. In either case **we are facing a complete reorientation** around our relationship with stuff, nature, ourselves, and one another.
My ten years in retreat, which I wrote about in my first book, was a radical personal reorientation. The outcome of that decade yielded a sense of inner peace based upon the integration and harmonization of what became three very clear realms of my human existence.
My intent in writing another book was to provide a concise description of the framework of Selfistry and those three realms in order to offer a way to reflect on and reorient one’s life — in order to not turn away from the transition that is upon us.
I’ve been telling the story of those realms — Witness, Source, and Self — describing Selfistry’s particular orientation, and comparing and contrasting it with methods and philosophies from numerous streams throughout human history for a while now.
Laying it all down in a concise guidebook seemed inevitable.
But getting there was not an easy road.
As I mentioned above, the intent of this book is to provide a guide for self-reflection and reorientation. For those who resonate with the Selfistry framework as a useful path, this book will be valuable. This motivation had me easily sit down to write.
But the challenges that immediately surfaced once I began to organize the chapters and their content were significant roadblocks and, thus, inevitable learnings for me personally.
Bottom line … I was afraid to nail Selfistry down into a document with a beginning and end, binding the story of Selfistry’s emergence and teachings into a book, and in essence calcifying something that felt and feels so alive.
This fear struck me again, like a lightning bolt, when I entered the library in Portugal — less than a week after I approved the final galley proofs and gave the green light on publishing the first two hundred copies.
Though admittedly and profoundly enchanted with the library, a part of me also felt suffocated and full of sorrow. I felt like I was surrounded by ghosts. After all, books, once bound, succumb to their content and stories being frozen by the very nature of their bindings.
“Isn’t this a liability?” I fretted to myself. “How can the content and stories of books grow and change with the times if they are bound? How can they still be relevant even shortly after they are published, let alone thousands of years later?”
“Look again,” another inner self whispered to comfort the panicking one. “Of course there can be value in capturing something, even if it is temporary and time bound … kinda like a human life.”
It’s true. Humans also have a binding. We are infused with the breath in our beginning and then released from it in the end, thus, bound by birth and death.
I pondered this thought for a bit, curious if the reality of birth and death — captured in time — limits or enhances our human existence. **I wondered if the binding itself may be essential to the miracle of our experience?**
I let this notion simmer in me as I walked through the library and imagined all of the books beginning to speak to me. My mind and heart quickened as my body opened to listen carefully. I imagined the symphony of words and stories and ideas cascading over me, and I got it. **What was written then was not separate from what was happening now.**
Though the binding happened in time, the content was timeless. It was up to me, the reader, to bring relevance and coherence to what lay on the pages. Or not.
This realization helped me to see …
My greatest challenge has been **my resistance to binding Selfistry’s teachings**, mostly for fear of not saying it perfectly – of not doing justice to the framework or the realms, and therefore limiting the reader’s ability to benefit from the content. But also, I feared the potential calcification. After all, I am still growing and learning. Therefore Selfistry likely will grow and learn as well.
I see now that the binding was not the challenge. My resistance to the binding was.
What lives between the bindings can and will continue to morph and evolve — just as a human life morphs and evolves between its birth and death.
Therefore, I can comfort my panicking self as I lean into my wish that in the binding something will be gained.
I’ll leave it to you to let me know if my wish comes true.
A BRIEF SUMMARY OF THE REALMS
The discovery of the self who is capable of remaining calm in the face of ceaseless thoughts, ongoing emotional waves, and the body’s sensations is the first realm. This Witness is strengthened and cultivated through regular disciplined practice. Like a muscle, it needs to be developed and utilized in order to have impact. I devoted many thousands of hours over those ten years to the practices of silence, simplicity, and meditation. To this day I sustain a maintenance program that is essential to keeping this muscle strong.
When the Witness is awakened and stable, we can more easily turn our attention towards what else is out there other than our thoughts, feelings, and sensations. Pondering and exploring the universe beyond the limits of our personal selfhood provides space from our incessant self-absorption. My gateway to having an experience and realization of Source — the realm beyond the self — was through the stillness and silence I’d cultivated while stabilizing the Witness. For others, such a realization may come through any number of intentional or spontaneous activities.
The realm of the Self is the one we are most familiar with and where we spend most of our attention; the realm of thoughts, emotions, and sensations — our individual uniquely wondrous existence as a one-of-a-kind human. Without an embodied connection to something greater than ourselves, and without a grounded ability to stand back and witness ourselves, the quality of our lives is mostly left to chance. However, by awakening Witness and Source, we can use the equanimity and love from these other two realms to attend to our selfhood in a way that is more relaxed and capable of bringing forth the best in us.