I have never, quite honestly, cared much about money or possessions or having a permanent home. My books, however, have been with me for over thirty years, a few more than fifty.
These Eskrima sticks have been with me close to twenty years. Other sticks have come and gone. But these I have wrapped and re-wrapped. They are ordinary, sturdy Japanese bamboo, but they have served me well, having clashed in many battles, enduring with me and helping me stand firm.
Over the years, I have found myself whittling down my earthly possessions, although I have never been one to collect many things. I am more apt to get rid of stuff, I don’t like clutter. Traveling light suits me best.
My books, though, are irreplaceable. There is not price tag that can be put on them. For two years I kept them in storage while I traveled. Taking them out again and placing them on the bookshelf was a spiritual journey in itself. Touching each one again, leafing through the pages, transported me to so many places. Rushdie, Vonnegut, Musashi, Wilkie Collins, Asimov, Jack Vance, Du Maurier, these are some of my favorites.
Some of my favorite books going all the way back to my childhood Bible, for which I have many mixed emotions.
In my room, I have a small gathering of select books. When I travel I take one or two with me. I never go anywhere without Casey Cohen’s journal which he gave me when he died, filled with his favorite sayings, written by his closest friends. Sister Janet Harris contributed to the journal and he made sure to show me what she had written. She is the one who introduced me to Casey, considered by many to be the foremost authority at that time on the death penalty phase. I used to joke when I walked through Central Juvenile Hall with Janet, the Catholic nun, on one side of me and Casey, the Jewish atheist, on the other, that I was perfectly balanced. That balanced was gone when Casey died. He was her moral compass. This is something I have written about in Letters from Purgatory.
From Casey’s journal, Sister Janet Harris’s contribution
What Casey chose to put on the inside cover of his journal. It tells everything about who he was and why I loved him.
One of my favorite scenes in a movie is from Only Lovers Left Alive when she leaves Tangiers and all she takes on her journey is a small case with a careful selection of books. I know exactly that feeling of choosing, it is so important.
Although I am most often a cynic and a pessimist, I believe there is a spiritual realm that we only glimpse rarely and through a haze. We cannot see the big picture. It seems the more we try, by gathering what we think is “information” and “knowledge,” the more lost, confused and fearful we become.
So, I take it back to simplicity, something I learned in my marital arts training. Repeating basic moves, like reciting a prayer, brings peace, assurance and humility. I have found glimpses of infinity can be found through focusing on well-worn objects that have stood the test of time, and have been infused with energies; through powerful words (although there is danger in the power of words); and through intense physical effort, which can bring with it a complete calming of the mind.
I recently wrote a post for The Fix, where I talked about how our society is inundated with drugs and what it is doing to our children–prescription drugs as well as street drugs. This got a huge backlash from some people. They called my writing harsh, even dangerous. I understand the pressure to use drugs. It is there, everywhere, we are told we must drug our “ADHD” and “ADH” children so they can fit in and succeed. I disagree, except in extreme cases.
It is tempting to take a pill and think it will make things better. And sometimes it does. But it only puts a Band-Aid on the issue and propels the person o a journey to find the perfect drug, just the right dose. Instead of a journey to find the right spiritual practice.
Training with my daughter, on the right, and her friend, on the left.
It isn’t easy to discipline oneself to train, to meditate, to face a mountain and climb it. But it is the most rewarding of journeys. Every day I could find an excuse not to train. But each day is a lesson in overcoming, each day is a lesson in perseverance, in the beauty of putting one foot in front of the other. It is beautiful, it is the best to live in that moment, because each moment is unique and will never come again. And then, the energy that we expend in those moments becomes infused into the universe around us.
A beautiful journey.