“One shed’s one’s sicknesses in books”

These words were written by the great DH Lawrence and he goes onto explain that in the act of reading, you as the reader “presents again one’s emotions, to be master of them.”

Since the Pandemic hit more and more people are saying that they are feeling more isolated, lonely and that friends and acquaintances are no long in contact. Things have changed in one’s personal sphere. And there does not seem to be the resources that one needs.

Although there is the mad run of self help books and journals and articles and TED talks and every type of devise to make one happier through changing poor habits, being more productive, learning new lessons, meditating more, being better versions of one’s self being more productive, being more successful — yet somewhere they are still failing.

Could this be because these resources do not touch on what it is to be human? I want to do a TED talk and just say “Everything is OK, it is just the way that it is supposed to be, you do not have to do anything. You are human. You are perfect. Just enjoy what you have. You do not have to be better and smarter, wiser or anything more. You are human, you should be full of doubt and curiosity, fear and courage, despondent and motivated. You are human, you are embarrassed and proud, depressed and excited, joyful and sad. And all of this is OK. All of this is good. Being resilient and enduring the uncomfortable, is the key to what it is to be human.”

And what is it that can reveal to you your humanness? What can awaken you to that which you already know? What can unlock that which is inherently yours? What is it that can reveal to you what it is truly to be human with all its contradictions and foibles, its moments of creativity and enlightenment.

I spent a glorious 3 weeks recently in Croatia — a total inspiration as to what it is to be human and creative. This is a country that has manifested all that is human and beautiful and also a country that has a very rich literature tradition.

Is it a coincidence?

Prof Philip Davies of Liverpool University has explored the brain activity of those reading extracts of literature such as Othello, George Eliot, Macbeth, King Lear as well as poetry by William Wordsworth and TS Eliot. He contrasted the results with readings of the same text in a simplified form. He was astounded at the result. Reading the literature with its complexities and metaphors and long sentences and unfamiliar words resulted in much more electrical activity.

And with more electrical activity, comes more neurological connections, and with more neurological connects comes more creative thought. And there is no limit to the creative thinking in human existence.

In Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” we see a dystopian society that no longer reads, and no longer urges to be educated. He states “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

And frighteningly with today’s young people sucked into the rabbit hole of social media, and the US banning or restricting books such as Brave New World, Of Mice and Men, To Kill a Mocking Bird, The Catcher in the Rye, Bradbury’s words of destroying a culture is coming a little too close for comfort.

Culture relates to emotional intelligence, the expansion of the self, the connection between people, the uplifting of the other, and the survival of the self. We walk down same marble streets today in Split in Croatia as those who built them in the 4th Century AD. A city created with breathtaking imagination, not only for Emperor Diocletian, but for the millions who have come after him in the last 1600 years.

The New School for Social Research in New York has backed up Davies’s findings seeing that literary fiction enhanced peoples ability to register and read other people’s emotions. When you can read other people’s emotions you become more empathetic and being more empathetic your emotional intelligence is enriched.

Professor Davies recognises this power and has has created the Centre for Research into Reading, Literature and Society with a plan to set the world agenda in reading, health and well-being, and the role of literature in modelling creative thinking about human existence.

Reading of the books of literature is an easy way to find the answers that you seek. A place to find those whose stories resonate with yours, whose hardships you want to avoid, and whose comfort you want to seek. Reading of literature actually alters your neurological pathways in microscopic ways and in so doing — releases that which is stuck or hidden. This gives you a new view on things, a creative insight into your emotions or the reasons for them. And a renewed power into ‘shedding one’s sickness’.

Stories for Wellbeing is taking on these ideas of reading for health and wellbeing, and creative thought and giving people easy access to the literature that can ‘shed one’s sickness.’

So before reaching for that ‘needed’ glass of wine, or wallowing in a pit of self pity — reach out for the words of the greatest authors of our time, spend time with them each day, read and get lost, feed your heart and your soul.

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Cecile Trijssenaar

Cecile Trijssenaar

Stories for Wellbeing —bibliotherapy - helping you become the hero in your own life