Hello, everybody. This video is connected to the article “Silence and spiritual experiences”, that you can visit in my website spi.st, “Spiritual Study”. This is a second video for the same article. We can say this video is more specifically for the experience of reading. I already said that in my experience, in my opinion, I would put silence as the first experience of spirituality, the most important, the most essential and the most common to all kind of spiritualities.
Now I would put reading at the second place in order of importance. The importance of reading - reading obviously something important, something essential, because we are in the context of spirituality - the importance of reading important books is witnessed by some religions that we can even call “religions of the book”. So, we can think of Christianity: in Christianity the Bible is the essential book for the doctrine, for life, for the spiritual experience. All the same for the Hebrews and we can think also of Islam, obviously the Quran, the essential book of that religion. So, what shall we notice about the importance of a book? But it is not necessarily a religious book: since we are in the context of spirituality for anybody, even an atheist can find an important book in any literature book or meditation book or philosophical book. So you don’t need a sacred book to have an experience, a spiritual experience based on reading.
We can even say that religious books, like the Bible or the Quran, they can be read by atheists or people who anyway do not belong to that religion, because any book can be appreciated by anybody and for sure books like the Bible and the Quran are not exclusive property of the religions. Of course they are at the basis of those religions, but anybody is able to appreciate the spirituality of another religion, another belief. We are here for a spirituality of enriching, not for a spirituality of separating from each other.
Now some notes about difficulties or risks in the experience based on a book.
One risk that most probably everybody can easily understand, and it’s even expressed by these books themselves, is the limit of the word. I mean, when we say anything by words, of course what they mean is always greater than the immediate meaning of the word, so we can say: reality or experience, life, spiritual experience is always beyond the word, so that a word should work, should be meant not like a container, although it contains something, but we should not forget that the experience is beyond the word, so that the word works rather like a finger that indicates the direction: go there! Not necessarily, because the word itself, as i said, has a value, has a power, an importance, has a life. We just need not to forget that we could be at risk of missing what is indicated by the word. I mean, it can happen that, for example, in the context of Christianity, I can be very concentrated on the Bible and forgetting to put my attention to God himself, for example. Such criticism is present in the Bible already, in the Bible itself. However, I think that this risk is not an impossible one. I mean, it’s not something that ruins the spiritual experience or limits it so much, because the word is able to negate itself. So, when I say, for example, “I try to express this, but, please, understand me, it’s not exactly what I’m saying, is something deeper, bigger, greater”. This way the word is negating itself, inviting the listener, the person, to pay attention to the fact that the reality, what is meant, the experience is beyond, so we rely on the subjective experience of the listener or of the other people.
About this problem, there is a very interesting series of stories, especially in the Bible, in the experience of Moses and Aaron. When God calls Moses to drive the people of Israel outside Egypt, Moses says “Oh, I’m not good, I can’t drive this people, I’m not good at explaining things by words, so, what shall I do?” And God insists: “You must go, because I am with you”. And Moses is still afraid: “How can I tell, how can I explain to the people what you want, what we are going to do? I’m not good at words”. At the end, God gives up. Although Moses is still, will remain the central person to drive the people of Israel outside Egypt, God says “Okay, there is your brother Aaron, he is better than you at words, so he will be your mouth, he will be your voice, so that he will be like a translator”. But, nonetheless, the origin is God and the first mediator remains Moses. What is important in this context is that the fact that the word is perceived as limited, not good at expressing, we not rarely don’t find the word although we have it in the mouth, but we can’t think of the exact word. In this context this is good, because this reminds us that the reality, the experience is different, is something else, it’s not the word. About this there is a classical music work composed by Arnold Schoenberg, the title is exactly “Moses and Aaron” and, through the music, the composer organizes this communication, this message: the melodies that are supposed to be sung by Moses are very difficult to understand, not easy, not pleasant, and this shows the difficulty of the word and even of music, while instead Aaron, when he starts singing in the music work, he is much more pleasant to be understood, to be enjoyed. But the message is: the best message, the best content, the best communicator is not Aaron, because in Aaron there is the high risk of putting the attention to the mean of communication, the instrument, the tool and forgetting that the instrument is for something else, for something different. So, Moses, with all his difficulties in finding words, in expressing the ideas, exactly for this reason is a better mean, so that he most easily leaves way, leaves space for God to communicate himself, while instead, in Aaron, the ability to find good words, expressive sentences, exactly this is a problem, because it makes more difficult to God to communicate himself and to win against the beauty of the word. So, the essence is that the word can be a medium of spirituality, exactly because it is able to negate itself.
Now another note about the word, the reading, reading a book.
I think that a good way to bear fruit in this experience of reading and living a spirituality with a book must be a path. I mean, we need to make a plan, so that we can see where am I, at what point am I, what is my growth, am I behind, am I advanced, am I going well? This usually is perceived as something really difficult from people, because it sounds like it kills spirituality, because it’s like a cage, a frame: my plan, my path. Instead, I want to be spontaneous, free, whatever happens, open to the experiences. At a certain degree this is true, because spirituality doesn’t like so much rules, laws, frames. But I think we need to be critical. Frequently, what we perceived as spontaneity, actually is just obeying to frames that are in our nature or even imposed by industry, while we don’t realize how much we are maneuvered by industry. So, I would rather think: it’s better to have a path and I even think that a path is the better protection for spontaneity, to create a real creativity, a real expression of what is inside us, without being slaves of industry, slaves or fashion, even without being aware of this condition of us.
I have even met people who sometimes, in the need of finding some orientation, some guide, they just get the Bible and open it a random page, thinking “Oh, let’s see what God is going to tell me through this random page”. This is bad, is wrong, because it means treating the Bible like something magic and the problem of magic is that magics is based on forcing God to do what I want him to do, while religion, instead of magic, is based on asking, I ask God “Please, do something, but I don’t want to force you, then I will be just listening to whatever you do, even if you do just silence”. So, it’s a nonsense getting the Bible and opening randomly “Let’s see what God wants to say me, to tell me now”. It’s a really nonsense, it’s an offense to the Bible.
Another risk could be what is contained exactly in when we make plans with all of our good engagement, good will. The problem is that, exactly when the plan is working very well, this means that we might expect, from the experience of reading, something that should always work. This happens about the experience of praying as well, like thinking “Okay, now I need some comfort, I need some peace, okay let’s go and pray, let’s go and meditate, let’s go and read this book, the sacred book, or another book, so that I will get peace, I will gain again harmony”. This is similar to the problem of opening the Bible randomly, because it’s again trying to force the instrument, in this case is the book or the prayer, to force to give me some results, so that we might even get frustrated. At least, if we are open to what is really happening and we can think “Oh, I prayed, I read the book, but I don’t feel all this harmony” and actually this is good, because it’s not a recipe to work whenever you want, it’s not a slave at your service: “Do you want peace? Okay, let’s make peace”. But both in the context of religion and in the context of spirituality, even atheist spirituality, it’s not respectful thinking of obtaining what we want from a tool like magics or like something mechanic. Spirituality and also religion is greatly, to a great extent, based on listening. So, rather than forcing things to obtain results, it’s much better, much more authentic, much more connected to what we really are, to what really the world or other people are, an attitude of listening and letting whatever is to happen, not wanting necessarily to obtain that purpose, because otherwise there’s no listening, there is just forcing things and everything to obtain what we planned to obtain, maybe even with wrong intention, just to become again the masters of what should be obtained. This destroys spirituality, makes it like a tool to reach happiness, or harmony, or peace, or whatever we want. It’s much more authentic to adapt. If an experience of reading or meditating gives me even sadness or even confusion, okay let’s welcome it. It’s much better to be authentic rather than pretending that everything works or should work. So, rituals, obviously I’m not talking against rituals now, but just warning about risks.
Another thing that it’s good to consider is that the book, the word works like an artwork, which means like a poem, for example, that is, at a certain point, autonomous from its author. So, when I have the Bible, or any other book, I can try to work out what the author wanted to communicate to me, but this is not exactly the best attitude the best, does not create the best context, because I can’t reach the intention of the author and we can say even the author himself is unable to be aware at 100 per cent of all of his intentions in communicating. So, what is important is being based on the material word, on the book, what is written. What is the written works for me now, today, and I will try to be respectful, faithful to what is really in the word, in the book, so putting the book in its historical context, considering my historical context, my mentality, which means everything is relative and it’s just a humble work of listening and, as a hermeneutic circle, the book interprets me, I interpret the book and, yes, we can also try to think “Oh, may be the other wanted to communicate this idea”, but may be it’s not the main purpose, it is not the last purpose”, because this way we are at risk of following just our idea of what the composer, the author wanted to communicate, rather than listening, listening and listening what is in the book, there, in the phrases, in the text, in the sentences, so trying to be very respectful of the material object that is that book, that word.
So that it’s not impossible that I can find in the text something that even the author doesn’t recognize as his intention, but this is not a problem, what is important is that I can see it and I can study it, based, as i said, in the historical context and in the art of interpretation that is the art of respecting the text, its grammar, all its aspects. A lot of studies has been made, has been done to interpret the text with respect as much as possible.
Last note is that in these experiences of spirituality, and I think that ultimately we are alone, which means even if it’s a social, collective experience, with other people, at the end I will meet just myself, my personal experience, my personal being, subjectivity. So, a community is important, because it helps me to grow, to correct my defects, to make progress, but, at the end, when I need to look at myself, I’m alone. It’s not just sadness, a terrible problem of being alone in the cosmos, in the universe. It’s a way to discover the universe, the richness that is in us.
So, these notes, I think it’s clear that I didn't introduce some solutions, but some suggestion to meditate further, even more, so that you can expand by your own work what I introduced as points that can be considered in wider horizon, in deeper ways, compared to the short video that I’ve done now.
So I wish that you will find here useful suggestions to make possible a really fruitful, really engaging and fascinating experience of what spirituality is.
See you next time