Farewell to old literary friends
My mind hearkens back to an old fairy tale of Hans Christian Andersen’s called, “The Garden of Paradise.” It begins, “There was once a king’s son. Nobody had so many or such beautiful books as he had.” In spite of all the wonders he could discover from his books, he was unable to find where the Garden of Paradise was, and that’s what he wanted to know more than anything, because he wanted to go there and see if he could resist eating the apple.
This came to mind as I went through the sweet sorrow of parting with many of my books as we prepare to move. We will be downsizing dramatically and there just won’t be room. It’s curious the hold that books can have on me.
Some of them are old and worn and very dear. Some looked at me from the living room shelf in the house where I grew up, a green volume of Andersen’s fairy tales and a companion red of Grimm’s. I cannot remember if anyone ever read any of them to me in my childhood, and strangely I do not think I ever read them myself. Those I chose to keep. After all, Jung says (or was it Einstein?), that the best thing you can do for your children is read them fairy tales. Someday maybe I’ll read them to my inner child, or perhaps a decade or so from now, to our great-grandchildren in Philadelphia.
Others nurtured my soul on its journey in my 20s and 30s, such as Merton’s “The Seven Story Mountain” and St. Teresa of Avila’s autobiography and guide, “The Interior Castle,” with its rooms of spiritual advancement. Merton recounts how, after his first mystical experience in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, “I walked down Broadway in the sun.” That’s a way we can think of ourselves every day. And Teresa’s writings I have referred back to many, many times during the decades, when I lived solely under the inherited paradigm of Christianity.
Recently, the treasured volume of Carl Jung’s memoir, “Memories, Dreams, Reflections” has become my most cherished book ever, for validating new birthings of consciousness within me, which enabled me to move forward with confidence.
More recently, the works of Anthony De Mello; Deepak Chopra; Stanislav Grof; Ram Dass; the poets Rumi, Hafiz and Kabir; and my shamanic teacher, Alberto Villoldo, have influenced me. Three splendid contemporary novels, “The Overstory,” about the language and wisdom of trees, by Richard Powers; “The Water Dancer,” about slavery and freedom, by Ta-Nehisi Coates; and the awe-inspiring civil rights era adventures of John Lewis in his “Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement,” have all greeted me as I entered new levels of consciousness and was looking for friends and guides.
While none of these have taken me to the Garden of Paradise of direct encounter, they have pointed me in the right direction at times or supported me after my visits, when there seemed, at first, to be no one to talk to. And so we prepare to move on, physically unburdened, but carrying the riches with us.
P.S. I’ll be voting for Joe Biden.
Bill O’Brien is a consciousness coach and shamanic practitioner. He and his wife Linda have lived in Shepherdstown since 2005. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.