Saturday, April 19, 2008

Library of Nomadics 2

When you travel, there is usually a dearth of books in the places you visit as a traveler. Travelers are meant to be happily distracted by suckling at the teat of ubiquitous blaring televisions in every airport, bus station, bar and restaurant, information wayside stand, and commercial-zoned street corner. Hotels don't think of habitual readers; they think of the need for people to be entertained and distracted. That's a comment on our society in general: entertainment über alles. The cultural assumption is that readers are in the minority, especially among travelers. Not that there is any shortage of media demands on your attention; travel can rapidly get very overstimulating.

I've been in many hotels, and few have ever boasted a library, though every room has a TV and probably a Bible placed by the Gideons in a nightstand drawer. (Someday I am tempted to replace the Gideon Bibles I encounter with copies of the Tao Te Ching; a small bit of poetic terrorism for a future road trip.) Actually, the TV is useful in the morning, to check the Weather Channel; I like to look at the raw data and do my own interpretation, so I leave the sound off, and just watch the radar and cloud maps displayed while I tie my shoes.

There is a personal morning ritual I've practiced for many years, that helps my day go better if I start it out this way. (I notice the difference when circumstances force me to miss a day.) It's my habit in the mornings to read and write, first thing, and to meditate, before breakfast. (Which can become brunch, some days.) I usually spend about an hour every morning in quiet contemplation, reading books that inspire and open my mind and heart for the day, and in writing. (As I'm doing this moment.) The books I need to read in the morning are spiritual books; books of spirit-infused poetry, anything from haiku to Rilke; books on Taoism or Zen; Thomas Merton, for example The Wisdom of the Desert; etc. I also often do some self-healing energy work.

When I'm on the road, there's no need to break this habit. If anything, it's even more important. When I am camping, I often wake with the sun, which is earlier than usual for me, being a natural night person. If it's a warm day, I will go visit the campground bathrooms, then sit in the sun to read and meditate, and soak up the morning warmth and air. Later, when I eat breakfast and break camp, the quiet mood of contemplation can sustain itself for some hours, especially on road trips when I'm not in a real hurry to get anywhere.

I like to travel to and camp in the quieter places of the earth: in the deserts; near the oceans; in the mountains. Places where a national, state, or county park system offers simple, low-rent tentsites. For me, the more primitive the better. I have friends whose idea of roughing it means no room service; my idea of roughing it means cooking a gourmet meal over a woodfire with no radios or TVs blaring from neighboring RVs. I like the dearth of human-made noise, so I can listen to the noises of nature. The sounds of a wood fire under pine trees swaying in a light wind, night birds, and rustlings of squirrels or other critters in the undergrowth: heaven to my ears.

These are places where you can actually hear yourself think. I know many people are afraid of this, and will fill up all empty spaces with distractions so they don't have to listen to their own inner voices. But I like the aspect of travel that gets me away from the usual noise and distraction. I do some of my best thinking when I'm driving, when I'm on a road trip.

When I'm traveling, there is every reason to bring along a few books to read, both in general, and specifically for my morning ritual. Fortunately, there are backpack-size and pocket-size editions such Shambhala Pocket Classics and Penguin Classics, which publish a great deal of the books I like to read in the morning. So, I always have a few books stuffed into my overnight bag, along with the clothes, shampoo, hairbrush, pills, and band-aids.

One book I always carry with me is the Shambhala Pocket Classic edition of Sam Hamill's translation of Matsuo Basho's Narrow Road to the Interior. It's a book I never tire of re-reading, especially when I'm on the road.

Another book I always seem to take along is Matthew Fox's Original Blessing, The first time I read this book, it was a revelation, a map of my own inner cosmology: something I already knew, but had not put into words as clearly as this.

Other titles in lightweight editions that I like to carry along, on a rotating basis, might include: Thomas Merton, The Wisdom of the Desert; Emily Dickinson, Poems; compilations of haiku, or Zen poems, or other poetry; Rilke's Duino Elegies and Letters to a Young Poet; etc. Another favorite that I often seem to carry along, especially if I'm going to be camping someplace for awhile: Four Huts: Asian writings on the simple life, trans. by Burton Watson.

I always have at least two or more audiobooks in the truck with me when traveling, that I listen to on day-long drives. Many of these sustain my morning ritual reading in tone and content. A lot of the audiobooks I like to listen to are released by Sounds True. My top two authors to listen to are Dr. Caroline Myss, and Pema Chödrön. Even on repeated listens, I get something new. While I have all of Caroline Myss' books—another author whose descriptions of the cosmology of inner space validate my own—I especially like her seminar and book CDs, in which she teaches the same information that's in the books but without merely reading the book; they're often done with a live audience, and they're often very funny. I like her no-nonsense Chicago-blunt style of teaching.)

I have an ambition, not yet realized, to re-read Herman Meville's Moby Dick. I first read this American masterpiece years ago. I started re-reading it a couple of years ago, but life has gotten in the way of getting very far along. There is an unabridged edition on 18 or 19 CDs that I covet, which would be good listening for a forthcoming road trip.

I have no grand conclusions or summations here, other than to observe that my reading rituals are the same, whether traveling or at home. I am always reading something. The continuity of my morning spiritual habits is a key element to sustaining the continuity of my daily practice, my daily life, no matter where I am today. Tomorrow, who knows?

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