Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian

It is simply a bare, blood-thirsty, famished novel, exposing the dark and cryptic aspects of human nature. Blood Meridian reads like an aggressive and nightmarish war novel. And the burden of its violence is left for the reader to endure.

Each person reading this novel is going to feel their own version of horror. And in that lies the heart’s core – which is to externalize the primitive cycle of life that is its own destruction.

I get why the book is shelved as a masterpiece. The violence which is inspired by the villain archetype of Mr. Kurtz in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and of Faust’s Mephistopheles is quite engaging.

It is a lonely story, desolation is the book’s only principle, each of his characters are isolated and in that they thrive.

You’re not supposed to understand the violence taking place in the book. Because to understand it means to transcend it, to get rid of the effects that are pungent and callous.

Instead, McCarthy wants us to swallow the exteriority of violence as it is. To witness it taking place without the inward glance.

Whether darkness pervades the heart of man like a contagious disease. Or that it’s in the heart of man within that forms that which is seen and felt as darkness outside. Perhaps this is the elusive and majestic quality of the book that makes one read it through to the end.

Not a must-read for everyone because of its bleak and unthinking narrative. But it’s those very qualities that also make Blood Meridian a panoramic read.

Jean Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea

Many see Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Rhys’s Wide Sargasso Sea as interlinked. That to be led by the latter’s deep and discriminatory nature you must first get to the heart of the former. And vice versa. Bear with me while I make a case for why neither is true.

The writing style of Wide Sargasso Sea is more critical than Jane Eyre. And in that, lies everything that separates both works. The nuanced approach of Jean Rhys to capture the imagination of Antoinette (who is the protagonist of Wide Sargasso Sea and the banal, unbalanced first-wife of Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre) is awe-inspiring. Her writing digs deeper roots that redefine the presupposed narrative of paternalism.

It’s horrific, modern, and vivid. Everything that is is because of the way her characters respond to this very desolation.

What’s so intriguing about the story is how isolated and pensive the characters are. Antionette, Rochester, and Christophine. They reify what feels damnable and forgotten in human nature. The ruination of one’s psyche through sexual, repressed, and insidious greediness.

We see Antionette’s dismay as intelligently as we see Rochester’s disdain. But seeing and believing, in the world of Wide Sargasso Sea, are two dissimilar passions. The story would like to forget it ever happened even though it continues to coalesce with the ruinous destiny of humankind.

Eventually, the novel sketches its own distinct nature as it lures the reader into life’s forbidden crevices.

Why shouldn’t a novel of such sharp and psychologically-charged imagination exist on its own?

In fact, through Antionette’s dreams and her fading childhood I found horror in even a very domestic portrayal of life. Something that contrasts Jane Eyre’s passionate yet gloomy narrative.

How Reading Is A Form of Meditation

“It’s when you set down the book and stare ahead and repeat the sentence in your mind again and again, apply it to every little thing you twist to make applicable.
You answer questions you didn’t know you were asking,
tie ends you left off years ago.”
– 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think by Brianna Wiest

You might read hundreds of books in your lifetime. But who’s to say that you will have understood every one of them in the way that they are written?

Some books are translucently vivid; they capture, provoke, and release us in the same breath. Some are not. So we create literary images of them to store as memories. We change them even though we don’t intend to change them. We may even change them deliberately when they don’t fit into the mold of our imagination and past memories.

This means it’s easier to think of reading as a technique that fulfills our inner world. This would also infer that we’re inherently wired to read anything that’s written (and that we can understand) as naturally as we depend on shapes and relativity to survive.

Our allegiance to the physical world clashes with the inaccuracy and abstractness of existence and consciousness. But in the heart of hearts, it’s never enough to just believe in the materiality of life. All these are evident facts but they are incomplete truths. Likewise, the knowledge that reading is the means of achieving or coming closer to a goal is also an incomplete truth.

So much is lost when we hasten to read what we have already begun to read. Do we breathe faster only so that we can move on to the next breath?

This got me thinking about how, over the years, my ideal way of reading books (the method itself) has changed. This is where the paths of reading and meditating meet. It may be because of my subjective experiences, but, somehow, I no longer see them as creative mindful practices. The fixation that one must read and one must meditate as “healthy habits.” They’re as inseparable to me as eating is to quench my hunger.

Gustave Flaubert wrote in of one his letters, “What a scholar one might be if one knew well only some half a dozen books.”

I like to believe that who Flaubert considers as a “scholar” is someone who is privy to even his own literary inclinations. So much so that his reading becomes a sentient and passionate act. And to isolate it from the person himself would seem futile.

Having said that, I want to write about how reading is but a form of meditation.

1. It’s okay to forget

I’ve cursed my forgetful memory more times than I can even remember. Ironic, right? But we’re all guilty of this flaw. The constant reading and re-reading of a sentence or a passage that moved you only so that you can commit it to memory. As a result, the hidden meaning of the words is lost.

This is where I realized the trap of my ego. It’s when I manufacture my own inferred meaning from the words on the page. So I want to remember them, jog them, and flaunt them as if they submit to my will.

This is not true.

It’s possible to expect fulfillment by denying it. The act itself is fulfilling.

In the same way, I realized that the fruits of literature are as unpredictable and ambiguous as my memory. So what if I stop trying to forcefully remember stuff in order to be moved by it?

2. Stop proving to yourself (and to others) that you’re a reader

How does one possible to prove to others that one breathes?

There lies an effortless and fluent pace of meditating.

When you lose the rhythm of focusing on your breath, how do you bring yourself back to it? It’s not by resisting the force of another thought, you simply acknowledge it and bring yourself back.

To learn how to read, you do not need a revelatory passage of time. Perhaps you don’t even need to be swept off your feet. Reading can have a self-controlled pace. It’s a contrast between desperation and tranquility. The moment you accept this approach to reading, the more satisfyingly meaningful will be your reading experience. Even if, on any busy day, it lasts for 30 minutes or so.

The boundaries that dictate the length of time (between short and long) are nullified. Rather the only constant that matters is the volume of time. What it contains, the observations, even the silent, contemplative explorations.

When you’re consumed by such comforts, finding the time to keep assuring yourself that you’re a reader seems pointless. Opening a new book only so that you can finish it is just a futile effort. A complete waste of time, on your part, and a waste of knowledge if we entertain the possibility that there is more than one way to read a book.

3. Books neither add nor subtract from your life

Is it possible to assume that the human mind is infinite? That a person can understand and act as one understands.

We always fall into what I call the “entitlement trap.” It’s when you read a new book, say about human archetypes, and at the end of it, you assume that it’s giving you new information about the workings of the mind. And as you familiarize yourself with these concepts, you find in them certain idiosyncrasies that match yours.

This, over time, builds an unhealthy pattern. Where you expect the book to provide you with something new, that you didn’t already know or understand before, and only then would the book be a “fruitful” read.

The space between choosing a new book to read and what you think you’re capable of reading gets narrower and narrower.

But the truth is that what books do is unwrap one of the many possibilities in your mind. So the acquired information may feel brand new and ground-breaking. But what’s actually happening is that you’re discovering new lands within yourself rather than building them.

What’s left to build, however, is how you connect those aspects of yourself you’ve so eloquently and unexpectedly discovered.

4. Sometimes reading encourages detachment

The science of continued meditation shows that feelings of detachment or the “unsticking of the self” are natural responses. How we’re less likely to attach ourselves to certain narratives as we strengthen (and calm) the brain especially when at ease.

So it’s not muscle memory but the complete stillness of mind that leads to this realization.

This got me thinking about all the books I’ve read in all the moods I’ve read. These so-called “narratives” are simply our life stories. It’s one thing to recognize it but it’s a whole other thing to be driven by it.

And reading, at least for me, has led me to distance myself from myself. Perhaps not always when some degree of detachment is required. But this network between a microscopic and telescopic way of viewing life has only intensified because of it.

I am more aware of but not attached to my emotions and thoughts that are but the products of my own mind, my surroundings, and of the relationship between the two.

This also brings up the aforementioned aspect of reading, which is entitlement. When you’re less likely to attach yourself to a fixed narrative, you are less possessive of it. As a result, understanding yourself becomes less rigid and more transitory; capable of possessing new forms and extending to familiar and unfamiliar relationships.

Anton Chekhov’s Plays

“Age is neither here nor there. When one has no real life, one lives by mirages. It’s still better than nothing.”
Anton Chekhov, Uncle Vanya

The measure of a person is in the day-to-day manifestations of one’s virtue and being. And it’s this illuminative aspect of life that best describes one’s conscience.

The desperation that makes you you.

The generosity of which makes an innocent feel repentant of not living enough. And the exploitation of which guilts the guilty for all the suffering. The stories in this book prove how man is as guilty for his innocence as he is for his arrogance.

Anton Chekhov’s writing invokes such mysterious and complex idiosyncrasies of man. His plays are one of the most ardent and incisive plays that I’ve ever read. They question the deep psychological obscurity of man. The highs and lows, the ebb and flow of existence that feels too acute and sobering to identify as existential.

Deeply embedded in objectivity, Chekhov’s characters deal with naivete and ambition. Ambition of age, of love, of selfness, of creativity, and most actively, of life.

No matter how detached his characters might feel from one another, they live their own individual, solitary lives. And in that, for the reader, there is much to embrace.

His stories aren’t wishful or idealistic.

He sees man as an imperfect, audacious, and most of all, intelligent creature. He’s in pain, often misunderstood, and difficult to endure. His existence is a complicated matter. So is his awareness of his existence.

To read Chekhov’s plays is to maneuver the mind of a realist. And how one atones for one’s own existence in order to be freed from it. In Anton Chekhov’s own words, “for the time being, we must live.”

J. Krishnamurti’s Freedom From The Known

“Turning back is how the way moves;
Weakness is the means the way employs.
The myriad creatures in the world are born from Something,
and Something from Nothing.”
– Lao Tzu

Does necessity breed conditioning? Or does conditioning breed necessity?

Our whole understanding of life is akin to a piece of glass; it melts into shape, it solidifies, it serves a purpose, and it breaks. All these functions do not invalidate the fact that the object, by itself, is glass.

It would have existed just as corporeally, without a name, without a function, without limitations.

Perhaps we should extend the courtesy of viewing ourselves as glass. Or the things that we build around ourselves, giving these vague abstractions names like love, desire, ambition, happiness. And melt them into shape, watch them solidify, serve a purpose, and destroy itself.

The emptiness caused by such destruction is yet another glass we mold into being; despair, anger, sadness, and loneliness. How long before they break too?

Krishnamurti’s Freedom From The Known is about finding the intelligence in the things we know. The knowledge of which is already so fragmented and conditioned.

If sorrow – when it manifests on its own or by something or somebody else – is painful, Krishnamurti’s lucid reflections bring you closer to how that pain isn’t a destination. This also translates to moments of happiness.

Why deny the transitoriness of such emotions that have no real precedence in reality? So much so that Krishnamurti even questions the concept of reality itself.

It is also possible to view life a bit differently without memories and time. Krishnamurti defines time as “the interval between idea and action.” The rest of it, which holds memories and thoughts in a chronological cage, is void.

So whatever you are right now, you are held together by a continuous force in a psychological dimension, driven toward a merely physical existence that dictates the things you love and hate. So pleasure, agonies, longing – they’re all conditions that pardon your necessity.

To which there is no end, no destination. There’s only living, the kind that you manifest as if today “were the only day.”