The Reader

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of hosting Omar – an old classmate from high school – for lunch at my house along with his lovely wife and 18- month old daughter Jana. We weren’t close growing up, he was cool and I was not, but we still often found ourselves battling each other in opposing teams on the basketball court. He played like Jason Kidd and watching him dance around us made me want to raise my game. We would eventually compete against other schools on the same team and win.

Like the cast of The Wonder Years, we all went our separate ways and lost touch after high school. This was long before Zuck created (The) Facebook. We reconnected only a few years ago and have stayed in much closer contact ever since. As a good friend and an early subscriber, he has encouraged my stray reflections and we have spent many hours discussing various themes in life. I still feel we are on the same team.

Omar is someone who comes across as having spent his years folded between the pages of books. He consumes them like candy which may be a reason why he is such a great conversationalist. I’m lost around him. When we met this time, he gifted me a copy of Ficciones by the Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. I finished the book in a day but what I found far more interesting than the short stories was the personal note inscribed by Omar on the opening page.

Dear Jawad,

Gifting a book is undoubtedly one of the richer interactions in life. The book, once gifted, returns to the giver a sense of personal ownership over the words within it. The wait for a response from the reader begins immediately, reenacting the real author’s wait for a decision from the publisher. It creates an opportunity to cultivate the ego (if the reader appreciates it) but requires him to humble himself before the reader by sharing the book in the first place. Amazing that such an intellectual pursuit causes such teenage angst… Thankfully, I’ve come to see it differently. A well stacked library or carefully selected bookshelf opens up to a lifetime of conversation with the greatest of men and ideas. Their distilled reflections sit in purgatory on the pages of those books, unable to move until someone unchains them with their intellect or heart. If everything is aligned, they find freedom in the streets, homes, classrooms, mosques, and battlefields of all time. If given due respect, books should be seen as our worldly inheritance from the most Merciful. A taste of paradise for the soul to savour, a reminder of the limitless joys a limited body with limited time can never hope for.

Your brother,

My taste for books developed late. But I soon discovered it to be an ideal means to arrive easily at what others have laboured quite hard for. For those willing to take the journey, books lead to an adventure of the mind. As a frequent traveller, however, I can’t help but wonder what’s ultimately the point of accumulating all this knowledge? Where (or when) does the intellectual quest end? If the aim of life is self-development, then it is our responsibility to realize one’s nature perfectly. But can we simply read books and expect to unveil all the mysteries of the universe, especially the ones hidden within?

I’ve come to believe no amount of reading can ever teach all the thoughts and philosophy that arise in the heart of man. A person may either read a thousand books, or he may just open his heart and see if he can touch the root of all wisdom. I want to move away from bookish knowledge (which reinforces the ego and may take you farther away from the Truth that originates from the heart) and arrive at an awareness level through inner learning which makes explicit the innate powers of man. Perhaps I naively feel what we achieve internally will begin to change our outer reality as well.

There are many types of people in this world but there are two that stand out based on my observation. There are those who look at life through their mind, and there are others who look at life through their heart. There is a vast difference between the two points and I’m aware of my own tendencies to forego the mind and listen to the heart. I now let the depth of my heart lead, and let the head follow. After all, to quote Milan Kundera: when the heart speaks, the mind finds it indecent to object.

I still seek mastery over secular subjects but only if I can translate a portion of that knowledge into experience and action, not just for use as a means to impress someone. Knowledge is sanctified only when it is seen coming from the Source and must be ratified by practical example, thus can the impulse for internal change be intensified and our learning become permanent. Per Rumi: “God has said, Knowledge that isn’t from Him is a burden. Like a woman’s makeup, it doesn’t last.” Acquired knowledge may vanish because it is outside of us, only that which is within can we call our own.

Enough of learning, my friend!
You read so many books to become all knowledgable,
But you never read your own self.
You rush to enter your mosques and temples,
But you never entered your own heart.
Every day you fight Satan,
But you never fight your own ego.
Bulleh Shah, you try grabbing that which is in the sky,
But you never get hold of what sits inside your self.
Stop it all my friend…
Stop seeking all this knowledge!
It’s all in One contained.

– Bulleh Shah

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