Subtext Books

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Downtown St. Paul's Independent Bookstore at
6 West Fifth Street, St. Paul Minnesota 55102.

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10am-6pm Sunday

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From the beginning of May until the end of June, I didn’t read a single book. This was very, very, difficult for me, especially considering I set my GoodReads goal at 100 books this year. It was a lofty goal for sure, but prior to this extended reading drought, I was on a pretty good pace. (I’m now reading David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks and LOVING it.) There were a variety of reasons for my lack of reading. Most obvious was that we were moving the bookstore to Downtown and that endeavor was devouring my hours like a black hole gobbles up matter, relentlessly. There were other reasons too. Summer had rolled around and this meant beach trips, Frisbee sessions, and other activities to be done in the sun. Music festival season ramped up and I was adventuring to catch some sultry tunes under the Michigan trees with my closest compadres. 

During this excursion, a buddy of mine (whose literary prowess I trust and whose intellectual aptitude I find engaging and challenging) recommended me a book. The book was called 10% Happier by Dan Harris. Mr. Harris is a news anchor for ABC and his book explores the notion that meditation can improve one’s ability to focus, reduce stress, tame the ego, and genuinely better every aspect of one’s life. I started reading it slowly at first. A few pages here; a chapter there. The narrative didn’t pick up until many chapters in. His exposition about the benefits of meditation was spot on, and he approached it with the same skepticism with which I approach just about everything. I quickly realized, however, that his skepticism ran deep

Although he embraced the beneficial facets of meditation, like increased focus and an ability to appreciate the important things, he was reluctant to lean into the spiritual, mystical, sides of meditation. Throughout his inquiry, he was amazed at how much meditation had helped him understand his own neuroses, but walled up when faced with concepts central to Buddhist meditation. It took him over 150 pages to arrive at a discussion on compassion and non-attachment. I knew Mr. Harris was strongly agnostic towards the spiritual, and I understood his contempt for further analysis on the subject, but I was disappointed in his unwillingness to explore. 

There was one concept, however, that I could not shake. It is out of this concept which the whole of Buddhist meditative tradition is spun. It is central to non-attachment, pleasure, pain, taming the ego and controlling the will, even death. This is the concept of impermanence.

The first instance in which my eyes scanned across this word on the page, it seemed a hundred font sizes larger, weighed down with metaphysical anchors that dredged through my mind. It was as though the word was written in shimmering ink with twinkling stars surrounding it. I was sent into a contemplative state of awareness and recognition that eventually led me to this Bibliotherapy session (and to the start of routine meditation.) 

Don Draper, from AMC's  Mad Men,  meditates, officially making it bad ass.

Don Draper, from AMC's Mad Men, meditates, officially making it bad ass.

Buddhism asserts that all states of nature are transient. Change is the only constant. Every flower wilts, every movie rolls credits, your favorite song at your favorite band’s concert never lasts long enough. Time marches on and we are left here perpetually seeking permanence. But if everything fades, decays, and disappears, how do we avoid despair? It was while contemplating on the idea of impermanence that I was able to reconcile my emotions in regards to moving the bookstore. It was difficult for all of us to leave that beautiful spot under the Blair Arcade, but I have been warmed by the kindness everyone has shown us in our new home and community. I was reminded of a well-known poem by the great Robert Frost:

Nature’s first green is gold,
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf’s a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Nothing gold can stay. Nothing gold can stay…. But gold surrounds us in every moment. From a honeybee pollinating that flower in the park, to the wispy tendrils of that giant cloud in the sky. Every present moment is where you find joy and happiness. As Mr. Harris states in his book, “happiness is not a feeling, happiness is a skill.” And this is how to avoid despair. If you can calm your relentless ego enough to be mindful of when you’re experiencing the good, and holding onto the gold, you can begin to see the beauty that surrounds us at every turn. You can let go of the negative and focus on the positive. Eternity does not exist as a state of nature. Eternity exists in the eyes of your lover, in the laughter of a baby, in the warmth of sun on your face, and in the pages of a good book. Eternity exists in the moment. 

So, the next time you find yourself in a state of bliss and happiness, become mindful and feel the joy flow through you. Let it overtake every cell in your body and revel in it. But know that it will soon pass, and that’s okay. Because you felt it. It was real and authentic. And with practice, and maybe a little meditation, you’ll come to realize that you can turn that joy dial up to 11 anytime you wish.

Until next time, peace, love and happiness.

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