For the love of books
I’m studying psychotherapy, and was recently in a class where I volunteered to be the ‘client’ to the facilitator’s ‘therapist’. This stuff is real: in therapy class, there’s no acting. You share your deepest pain and joy, often with people you’ve barely met. It’s like being emotionally naked in public. The idea is that you figure out how to handle your own and others’ mental landscapes without props, games, or any escape. After years of trial and error, chances are that you’ll be able to surmount obstacles with somewhat more sensitivity and grace than you had before.
So that’s how I found myself standing in the middle of a circle of ten students and therapists on a Sunday morning in February. The therapist’s calm voice came from behind me. She asked me to describe a place where I felt safe.
I gestured to the blank white expanse of wall in front of me and said “This would be filled with books, all the way up to the ceiling. It’s a public library… As a child I’d sit alone at a little table and chair below them, as if I was at their feet. It’s quiet.”
She gestured to the space where I stood. “You’d be sitting right here?”
“Is there anyone else here, with you?”
I felt a pang of loneliness. “No, I’m alone.”
The circle of students around me had disappeared, and I felt transported back in time. My whole family would go to the library every Saturday, before dispersing among the stacks on their solitary explorations. When school became overwhelming I’d also vanish among the books, which would intrigue me and keep me company like old friends. At night, between the ages of 6 and 9 I could only sleep when there were books cuddled up next to me. They were hard but they were also friendly and predictable, in a world that I sometimes found threatening. I loved their scent, color and texture, and the care which each writer and illustrator had poured into their story.
“You’re alone?” The therapist investigated, having heard in my voice that I was close to tears.
In the initial picture that I’d painted for her, there was nobody else: only my small girl-body amidst the looming mountains of books, as if they were watching over her. She was almost getting lost in the big shadows. There was safety, but there was also a sad isolation. I realised that I had cut myself off from others in order to ensure that I’d be safe. In the process, I had missed out on the warmth of human connection that I so craved.
I clicked back to reality and realised that there were ten people sitting around me, patiently waiting to hear my reply. “No… I guess I’m not really alone. There are lots of other people around me in the library, doing the exact same thing that I am. And I was dropped off by my family, who are still nearby.”
I looked up and realised something else. “And these thousands of books… they were all written by someone. They’re not just words on paper. Each book is a person reaching out, telling a story, often for years or for a whole lifetime. They paved the way for everything I want to write. I haven’t been alone at all…”
My first publication came out last month, ‘Ghosts’ in an anthology about Buddhism and Psychotherapy: The Wisdom of Not-Knowing, available now on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.