From Reading Pages to Reading Our Essences

Büşra Demir
6 minutes

At an event I attended years ago, I started chatting with a young university student. As a mind on the verge of fully participating in life, he started asking me questions about life. So I advised him to ‘read a lot’ with what I had stuffed in my saddlebags until that day. Then he asked a two-word question.

“What should I read?”

Which book, or books, about life can a person read to get to know life? Which books will make his life easier, his path clearer?

This question can be answered by a wide range of sources, from novels to essays, from science to history, from theological sources to personal development movements and professional secrets. It varies according to temperament, interest, periodic curiosity, and many of them are capable of opening different windows. But if the lines you read do not go below the level of your ears, if they do not make you more ‘human’, libraries full of books will only take up space.

How much can one listen to an expert whose eyes are filled with rivers of arrogance when he or she presents his or her scientific or cultural knowledge? Has a person who puts invisible labels on others who have not reached his level of knowledge and sees himself on invisible thrones really recognized life and created a framework of meaning for life? Did he find all the answers about existence in what he read?

When we look at the history of philosophy, we see that the ancient Greek philosophers made their first search for the essence of life by looking outside, at nature. But then, with the words ‘Know thyself’, the search for the self turns to the self. This differentiated perspective came out of the treasury of Socrates.

At this point, I think it is necessary to read the aphorism ‘know thyself’ by making it a north star. The main purpose of reading is to read whatever takes one to oneself, whatever brings one closer to one’s truth. Or looking for a path to yourself in every book you read. For a rational mind it would be scientific books, for an emotional mind it would be literary works. A social intelligence can walk its own journey by reading books on psychology, sociology or history, while an analytical intelligence can walk in completely different fields such as cosmology or astrophysics. As long as the journey of reading takes him to his own essence.

The holy book of the religion of Islam, which is unfortunately identified with ignorance today, begins its journey with the command to ‘Read’, showing the opposite of the path to ignorance. Every book written by human hands is essentially a small part of an infinite knowledge, a single drop of an infinite creativity. As much as it is possible to see the whole even in that single drop, it is just as possible and dangerous to become arrogant and think that I am a scholar, and to close the doors to consultation one by one over time. If reading doesn’t make you marvel, if it doesn’t make you think about yourself, if it doesn’t remind you how little you know and how helpless you are, then it doesn’t fulfill its purpose. A person who has not transformed what he has read into a state is likened to a donkey laden with books, because knowledge is nothing but a burden for a person if it does not spread to life.

If reading should lead one to one’s own essence, the answers to the question ‘what should I read?’ should be sought beyond the books written by human hands. A reader on a reading journey should be able to read himself and the universe alongside all those books. Don’t you think it would be an incomplete journey to be a ‘reader’ without reading the poetic lines written in the hearts and glazed in the universe? Even if one reads all the books in the world, can one feel complete without reading oneself and the universe?

Perhaps these readings can be called a state of serene navigation. When he is exposed to injustice, when his colleague is successful, when he faces an unexpected illness, loss, when he is alone, when he is among the crowds, among material and spiritual riches… In fact, watching oneself with the eye of the heart every moment, while being in the affairs of the world with the eye of the mind, watching what emotions flow and what states emerge in the inner world in response to what is happening in the outer world, should be a path to reading oneself.

When world affairs pause for a moment, it can be a good opportunity to turn the mind’s eye to the universe and read it. The magnificent colors scattered in the dark space, the way we are tossed along with the sun in that dark space without feeling any tremor, the astonishing, aesthetic measurements of the speeds and angles in the rotations that continue from the largest to the smallest structures; are in the lines of that magnificent book of the universe. When we can read it, we can find the patterns scattered throughout the universe on earth, inside our bodies, and perhaps feel the path to unity.

In today’s world, with more and more books on the shelves, knowing that reading is not limited to these would have made all the difference. If only a mother could look up from her ‘perfect parenting’ books and read about her child, if only a teacher could go beyond the rush to complete the curriculum and read about her students, if only an employer could put aside his ambition to make money and read about his employees… If we could read our spouses, brothers, sisters, friends, neighbors who are bored inside, who get angry for no reason, who cheer up over a simple event, who get excited over what seems ordinary to us, a lot could change around us, in our society. We could hear the language of love, peace, solidarity, for example. We could taste a lot of creativity, enthusiasm, aesthetics. We could be surrounded by souls who had gone beyond their obligations, who were free of their excesses.

They say reading is flying to freedom. It must be an ascent from humanity to humanity.

Here’s to many more readings where we will first descend to our essence and then fly to our freedom…

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