As a student of life, I’m a collector of books. I may not be the fastest reader, but I am a passionate one. Books have also become my friends and most loyal companions. I purchase them to support my favorite writers and so I can annotate and diarize my thoughts within them as I read.
A guilty pleasure, yes, perhaps even an addiction, but certainly a healthy one. I am selective and choose only those books that will help me to grow in some way as a human being. My favorites range from memoirs to self-help and poetry, and they all serve to empower and inspire real change, be that mental, emotional, spiritual, social, and/or physical.
Bibliotherapy: The New Science
Reading and writing often go hand-in-hand, and over time my desire to read blossomed into a desire to write. These days I feel as if I must write, for sanity’s sake and to feel whole. And like books feed and nourish my soul, so does my writing. And although I set the intention to write for my readers, I am always writing first for myself.
Reading and writing have always been my go-to healing strategies and therapeutic outlets, but I had never before considered them to be a form of therapy. Recently, when I heard the term “bibliotherapy” used in conversation, I felt intrigued and decided to research the topic.
Bibliotherapy is a “very broad term for the ancient practice of encouraging reading for therapeutic effect.” It is a versatile and cost-effective treatment option that uses books to support good mental health and to stimulate healing across all ages and has been used in educational and psychological disciplines. It traces back to the ancient Greeks “…who inscribed above the entrance to a library in Thebes that this was a ‘healing place for the soul.’”
Nowadays, bibliotherapy is considered a new science and is often used to supplement other types of therapy. Books are “prescribed” by experts to support an individual’s specific emotional needs. (It is also often combined with writing therapy)
What a gift, to self-medicate with great books. That’s my kind of prescription! I tend to overdose on non-fiction, especially on Mark Nepo books. Nepo is a poet and philosopher who is well-versed in spirituality. His books strike a deep chord within me that awaken my mind, open my heart, and beg for introspection.
The Book of Soul
The global pandemic has been a very challenging time for me, and so I have often turned to what I call “sacred books” to uplift me and fill my inner emptiness. This past month my soul was feeling especially malnourished as it felt like everyone else was re-entering society feeling confident and eager while I was still feeling apprehensive around “lingering COVID.”
And so, unknowingly, I became my own bibliotherapist and set the intention to read and delve into Nepo’s latest book, The Book of Soul. Although most of the book resonated with me on some level, I would like to share some of my favorite parts here with you. These transformative quotes can offer wisdom and insight for you to reflect upon and converse around in meaningful conversation with others:
“Life doesn’t add up but opens up.
Resilience has to do with the improbable belief that there is honey in the stone, and that sweet things extracted from hard things will heal us.
There’s another way to understand emergency—as any instance that allows for the agency of our emergence to take place.
There are two perennial questions we need to ask in order to find each other and our way in the world. They are: What am I standing on? And what am I standing for?”
Understanding Our Shared Humanity
“Though no one can endure, discover, open, or stay awake for us, we are inextricably knit together. While you’re discovering, I may be enduring. While I’m awake, you may be struggling to open. But your discovery helps me endure, as my wakefulness helps you open. We’re linked in our humanity the way the earth holds a tree, so that tree can hold a nest, so that nest can hold a bird, so that bird can drop a seed that will in time give birth to the next tree. All our attempts seed each other.
We can talk, but ultimately we make no ground until we listen to each other and to the current of humanity. We only have one turn at being here together before we pass what we’ve done or not done to the next generation. I pray we can listen to what love and suffering open us to, so we can drink from that well and build a better world.
Such a fundamental inspiration: to give all our presence and attention in order to see and accept the heart within a stranger until the strangeness evaporates.”
Learning How to Stay in Conversation with Life
“To learn from life and its web of relationship, we are constantly challenged to stay in conversation with the moments of our lives.
Being human, we hide and come forth, again and again. When we hide, nothing seems possible. When we come forth, everything seems possible.
Everyone has a tenderness that waits in the centre of their hardness…we need to pry ourselves open and let the tenderness we were born with meet the world. We must risk being tender if we want to truly live… by staying tender, life has become a practice of opening what’s before me rather than running to where I imagine life is easier.”
Read to Heal & Choose Books that Resonate
Open to your vulnerabilities and seek out books that resonate with you and allow them to offer their scared healing. When they genuinely resonate, words can feel almost holy and prayer-like. They can feel so uplifting that they are truly therapeutic in nature.
Reading has been proven to put our brains into a pleasurable state, like meditation, and it can offer the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers have been shown to sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and even lower rates of depression than non-readers.
I would love to hear your thoughts on these quotes and on the concept of bibliotherapy and how it’s helped you or can help you.