Thursday, 19 February 2015

Theory of 5 Books (You Are What You Read)

Motivational speaker Jim Rohn said “you are the average of the 5 people you spend most time with”, which of course, suggests that ultimately those who you hang around with the most have a significant impact on the kind of person you become. I am not here to prove or disprove this perspective; undoubtedly our environment - this includes people – shapes us. However, this theory did get me thinking beyond just the friendship circle(s) that we form. I mean, most of us don’t have a Friend’s sitcom cafĂ© hang out, where we can seemingly negate our life responsibilities and entertain the world with our antics. Nor are our friendships as fixed as the above idiom would have you believe. I recently caught up with a group of my friends of over 10 years, some who I hadn’t seen in a year or two, but it was just like old times. I began to think, well, I don’t spend that much time with the same 5 people. I further thought to myself, what do I spend a lot of time with? Answer: books! Maybe this is only highlighting my own social awkwardness and apparent introversion. How I often form greater attachments with books than I do people. How, when I have experienced the most challenging points in my life, I have often turned to excerpts from certain books as support, before I have turned to people. Or how, in a previous relationship, the book I bought my then girlfriend - yes I have had one thank you very much (don’t tell mum ((hi mum, it’s not true)) - who actually refused to read it, then went out of print and became a collectible. Luckily, I was able to get my hands on my own copy once more.

 I believe you are what you read. And so, as I seem to spend so much time with books, it led me to arrive at what I call “the theory of 5 books”. That essentially, you are an amalgam of the 5 books that you read or return to the most. I’ll tell you how it began. Like most things it began with a girl (or a guy, transgender, or whomsoever impacts your heart). When we first met, I was quite taken in by her love of books and reading. I found this quite endearing and began to already imagine times where we would be sat, entwined on the sofa, TV switched off - would we even have one? Probably not - in an absolute comfortable silence reading separately, together. The problem arose though, when we spoke about what kind of books we liked. I was very much into my political books and historical fictions, whereas she was quite into her popular mainstream fiction. I’m not passing any judgement on either, but what I realised is it made us fundamentally different. Ultimately, I could not stand her books, and nor could she mine.

 I started then looking at my own reading habits that I had developed over the years, and noticed that year in, year out, there were a core group of books that I returned to and read multiple times in the year. Sometimes, when I read a new book, and if it was good enough, it made the “in group” and knocked another book out. I also noticed how these books helped to fundamentally shape my perspective of the world. Now, I am not negating any influence that we have whether nature or nurture, or the socialisation process, that makes us who we are. I am simply suggesting that, fundamentally, much like the 5 friends we spend most time with, the books we read – and keep reading – have a profound impact on who we are. Not everyone has a 5 book selection. Some people are unfortunately, in a restricted way, limited to a theory of one book. To the point where you can almost guess where all their perspective comes from, however, I find that the most open minded souls, delve far and wide to search for what makes them who they are.

So without further ado, here are my 5 books, in no particular order, that make up my core:

1. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus
2. 2000 Seasons by Ayi Kwei Armah
3. 1984 by George Orwell
4. An Afrocentic Guide to a Spiritual Union by Ra Un Nefer Amen
5. Wretched of the Earth by Frantz Fanon

These books aren’t necessarily my favourite books, but they are my core 5, my starters, my “dream team” or “dream reads”, and they continue to have a significant impact on my world view. It is a diverse selection; one that goes from the personal to the political, from the mental to the spiritual. I would recommend them to anyone. What are your thoughts on the theory of 5 books? And do you have 5 books that make up the core of you? Let me know what they are.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Radical Self Love

Radical Self Love

We do not learn about self love early enough in our society. From a young age however, we are instead quickly bombarded with stereotypical notions of romantic love through portrayals in Disney fairy tales, Hollywood romantic movies and popular culture music videos. Often in this, it shows the woman being the damsel in distress, and the man, her hero and knight in shining armour.  Or the woman is shown sacrificing herself in some dramatic fashion, merely as subordinate to a man who then goes on to do greater things. It seems we only begin to consider self love once we begin to break free of the trauma that comes with the pseudo love previously taught and start to consider how we can heal ourselves and love correctly.

Self love is radical. Radical self love is revolutionary. But what does this mean to a soul stumbling upon these idioms for the first time? Let us first consider what we mean when we speak of love.
Love is arguably the most subjectively defined notion in the history of any idea that has ever been conceptualised since the existence of human consciousness. It is simultaneously individual and collective, a continuum, the dance and the song. Thus, I will not offer a definition of love – as poets have attempted to do since time immemorial – instead, I will offer a reflection on what self love is, what it entails and most importantly, how it can be revolutionary. Then, in doing so, hopefully love will define itself.

If we are to understand the rhetoric ‘radical self love is revolutionary’, it must be considered in three parts: 1. Radical 2. Self love and 3. Revolutionary.  The word “radical” is heavily politicised, to the point we cannot barely hear it without thinking of extremist politics. It is far from that. The definition of radical that I would like for us to consider is that given by Angela Davis who says ‘radical simply means grasping things at the root’. And the thing we are to grasp in this context is self love.
But what is self love? Primarily, I would reflect that your “self” is the manifestation of your unique existence in the universe and its relation to that which it is, as well as, to the relation of the unique manifestation of the existence of others simultaneously. Love then, in relation to self love, simply becomes that which maintains, heals and grows the aforementioned.
“Revolutionary” then comes to us as that which transforms our existence, both on an individual as well as a collective level, to a higher state of being. On a tangent, it is worth mentioning the difference between rebellion and revolution. Rebellion is resistance and liberation from an order imposed on our existence, however, it is individual. It becomes revolution, when this resistance and liberation is manifested collectively.

Radical self love is revolutionary for, when practised, it has the power to transform our lives on both an individual and collective level for the better. I put the question to twitter earlier today, what does ‘self love’ mean to you? And of the many endearing responses I received, one that struck me in particular was given by @tamtamsworld  who said self love is ‘treating yourself with the same level of compassion, patience and care that you would a little child’.

How can we practise self love? I think there are many elements to this. There is no single unique method that can be applied to all. As complicated and nuanced as us human beings are, we can all find a way to practise self love in different ways. However, I would suggest the three following fundamental principles when practising self love:

1.       Death to the ego: self love is not an invitation to narcissism. Nor is it an opportunity for self aggrandised, conceited, superficial indulgences or gratification. Do not engage in that which inflates your ego, that which places you above others. Instead, consider your ‘self’ in relation to others.
2.       Do not make comparisons: do not compare the manifestation of your own unique existence to that of others for that only drives competition, but does not encourage healing or growth. We are not here to compete with that which we are connected to. Imagine, the elements competing with each other. It will only lead to destruction. Comparison encourages one of two outcomes; inferiority or superiority. Neither of which helps us to heal or to grow.
3.       Daily ritual: practise a simple routine or ritual at the same time every day - it can be in the morning when you wake or night before you sleep – that allows you to centre your self and be rooted in your own existence, whilst in reflection others. Some suggestions are to light a scented candle and meditate or a routine of stretching or breathing exercises.

The problem is that not enough of us are arrive at radical self love early enough in our loves, and once we do, even less of us form relationships with those who are practising radical self love and consequently, many of our relationships come to destruction as they are centred in ego, particularly in this contemporary era of narcissim, nihilism and capitalism. However, when two people who are practising radical self love come together in union, without ego or domination, this is revolutionary. This, ultimately, is love.