Dan Keusal's e-newsletter
Spring 2022 edition:
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The essay in this newsletter continues a regular theme in my writings: finding windows into the soul in everyday, ordinary experiences--in this case, piles of purchased but still-unread books (and other such items). How might the "things" of our lives offer glimpses into the deeper, subtle calls of the psyche? What about distinguishing those times from more mundane instances of "retail therapy" and its darker cousins? This edition also includes my favorite song by a long-time northwest musician, a suggestion for where to look to add to your own piles of books, and another of my photographs (I admit: I like the variety of those three resources--song, word, and image). As always, I hope that you'll find here something to renew and sustain you as you continue on your own journey.
Take good care.
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Reflections: “Interior Design"
Years ago, I gathered all the books I had purchased but not yet read and put them on one central, highly-visible shelf on a bookcase in my living room. My intent was that the concentrated visual of the unread books would help limit my inclination to keep buying more: “See! You don’t need another book—you still have all of these to read!”
During the intervening years, the books on that one shelf grew to encompass another, and then another, until finally they spread back out to the multiple locations from which I’d gathered them in the first place. Rather than being discouraged by what might seem like a failure, I’ve come to see the visual of all those purchased-but-unread books as comforting, sustaining, even inspiring. And I’ve come to wonder if they are mirrors of a process that goes on in the psyche, a process I’d like to call “interior design.” Each of those books represents something that once called to me, seized my imagination, that sparked or awakened some part of me that was seeking to be developed or deepened. Now, when I see the spines of those titles looking out at me from whatever perch they occupy, I am reminded of those parts of me, of those avenues of potential growth.
There have been many times when I’ve pulled down a title months or even years after I bought it, and found that “now” was exactly the right time for it—as if it had been slowly ripening, or was a kind of pregnancy finally coming to term (I think of all the dreams I’ve heard from clients over the years about their being pregnant, and what parts of their psyches those pregnancies were symbolizing).
Instances like these suggest the possibility that the original impulse to make such purchases, be they books, collectibles, or other things, may originate from somewhere deep in the psyche—a kind of seeding of the imagination. In Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore wrote that he understands therapy as “nothing more than bringing imagination to the areas of life that are devoid of it,” and that such devoid areas, left un-attended, “express themselves by becoming more symptomatic.” Perhaps an accumulation of unread books (or other items) is not the symptom of a “problem,” but rather a way to prevent a problem by bringing imagination to bear.
I’m not alone in this particular biblio-habit. The Japanese have a word for piling up unread books: tsundoku, which combines elements of tsunde-oku (“to pile things up ready for later and leave”) and dokushu (“reading books”). Acknowledging that translations, especially from a complex language like Japanese, are always tricky, and that making mountains out of mole hills is a potential danger in such instances, I’m nevertheless struck by how fitting the phrase “to pile things up ready for later” seems to be. To the extent that this translation (which I took from a Wikipedia article) is accurate, it supports the idea that piles can represent pregnant possibilities.
Of course, we have to acknowledge the potential shadow side of all this—of “retail therapy,” of buying things just to fill a void, to avoid the deeper call to expansion and growth. Along these lines, I find myself wondering if some of those who suffer from “hoarding” might have begun with a soulful inclination only to see it metastasize into something materially and psycho-spiritually cancerous, initially healthy “cells” of the psyche that began multiplying in unhealthy ways until they morphed into something destructive.
Another potential shadow in all this is getting too focused on interior design, on forgetting the importance of, say, doing something with our hands (instead of our heads), or of getting out for a walk in nature, topics to which I may devote future essays (I actually “collect” such potential essay topics, too; it was years ago that I first added the idea for this essay to a list that I keep).
I love the way that my shelves of unread books constitute part of the interior design of my home, along with the other elements I’ve gathered over the years: pottery, candles, plants, furniture (a recent favorite: the beautiful, dark-stained, three-shelf end table that sits next to my reading chair, and which I’ve dubbed my “reading table,” and which has become yet another place that purchased-but-unread books pile up), and wall art (including a recent purchase of framed prints of three paintings of scenes in Italy by artist Stephanie K Johnson, whose work I discovered years ago at her booth at the Redmond Saturday Market).
How might the objects we are drawn to and obtain and keep around us serve as windows into the soul, as intimations of the numinous, as invitations to the new horizons to which we are called? And how might we stay aware of the difference between patience during ripening and a degrading into shadow? We do well to hold such questions in reflection as we look around the spaces we occupy, and whenever we stand in a store, or find ourselves, phone in hand or perched in front of the computer, about to click on the “Buy now” button.
Resources For A Life Of Depth And Meaning:
(song): "Cassiopeia" (Heidi Muller) This is my favorite song by Muller, whose decades of work have made her a northwest treasure. I that hope her craft as a songwriter, her lovely alto voice, and her tender touch the the mountain dulcimer on this live performance (which includes her partner Bob Webb on cello) will serve as soothing balm in these troubling times. For more on Heidi Muller and her music, visit her web site. (e-newsletter): "Shelf Awareness." If you're looking to add to your own piles of books, I recommend this independent newsletter featuring 25 new books each week, selected and reviewed by industry insiders. I've discovered many fine literary companions here, including novels, non-fiction, poetry, children's books, and more. (photo): "Hydrangea, Close To Home" I mentioned in my essay the need to not get too focused on interior design, and that getting outside and encountering the natural world is a fine way to avoid that trap. I snapped this photo of a hydrangea with my cell phone while out on a walk, just a few blocks from my home. Click on the photo below to view it on my web site, and download a copy for your own enjoyment.