By Stephen Holland
The current lockdown situation is a difficult time for everyone. It can lead to feelings of isolation and hopelessness. When people are separated from their friends, family and loved ones, it’s easy to feel emotionally and spiritually bereft. Books are one source that can help ease the burden of seclusion. A truly great novel can teach us things about ourselves and help give us the strength and resilience that we never knew we had. Here are just a few books that I read when I feel like I need some guidance on this earth. I think each of these stories in their own way has something to tell us about the nature of the human condition, what it means to be alive, and how even when you’re feeling hopeless, there can always be a light at the end of the tunnel.
The Five People You Meet in Heaven, by Mitch Albom
This heart-warming novel by Mitch Albom examines what it means to exist on this planet and the events that unwittingly affect our experience of being alive. It follows the life and death of a maintenance man named Eddie, who is killed saving a little girl on his 83rd birthday at the amusement park that he has spent his entire life working at. Eddie dies and goes to heaven where he meets five people who had a significant impact on his life when he was alive. The title may put you off, but this is not a religious book, it is about how our perception of our lives is often-times quite different from the reality of it. Eddie feels like his life was meaningless, that he squandered his opportunities, and that even though he lived to be quite old, his life did not hold much value. As he progresses through the afterlife Eddie is confronted by the interconnectivity of existence, how the little things you do can affect other people’s lives and experiences dramatically. He learns about anger and forgiveness, and the benefits of seeing two sides to a story. He experiences the power of love and that there’s always a purpose in life, even when it doesn’t feel that way.
Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach
This short novella, by American aviator Richard Bach, is a fable about a seagull who loves to fly. While all the other birds fly to get food or merely to get from place to place, Jonathan Livingston flies for the sheer joy of it. He wants to learn everything there is to know about flight and to soar higher than any seagull has before. His unwillingness to conform to social norms results in his expulsion from his flock. Now an outcast, he can focus wholly and completely on his passion for flight, becoming increasingly pleased with his abilities and leading a happy and peaceful life. Later, Jonathan meets two seagulls who recognise his incredible abilities and take him to a higher plane of existence. Here he can perfect his skills away from the distractions of everyday reality. This is a book to be experienced. It is an inspirational story about trying to better yourself, it is about following your passions and pursuing your dreams without worrying about what other’s will think of you. By not compromising his higher vision Jonathan is able to achieve transcendence and can utilise his exceptional skills for the betterment of all.
Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse
This novel from 1922 is written by Herman Hesse and deals with the spiritual journey of self-discovery. Siddhartha and his brother Govinda are on the search for enlightenment. They become homeless and renounce all personal possessions eventually meeting Guatama, the famous Buddha. Govinda hastily joins the Buddha’s order, but Siddhartha does not follow. Although the Buddha is wise, he needs to forge his own path. Siddhartha becomes rich and wins the love of a beautiful woman, however, he soon learns that living a luxurious lifestyle is merely a game and offers no spiritual fulfilment. This novel teaches us that while knowledge can be passed on, wisdom cannot. To fully understand and appreciate life, we must first live it. The only way to learn from your mistakes is to first make them. The character Siddhartha honours the Buddha not by following him in person, but by following his example. The path to enlightenment is a solitary endeavour and you will not get there by merely copying others. The irony of the book is that the one person who seemingly disrespects the Buddha by not joining him is the only one who achieves enlightenment because he treated him as an influence and not a god.