1. One from the classics: The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway. (Actually that was a re-read. I first read it during my school years. Different eras, different perspectives, totally different insights.)
2. One from my favorites authors: What I talk when I talk about running, Haruki Murakami. (Or, how a writer can blow your mind, even if he's talking about his running marathons)
3. One from a random pick (someone's suggestions, somewhere in the web): A tale for the time being, Ruth Ozeki. (It turned out to be my first book written by a Zen Buddhist priest which didn't seem at all to be written by a Zen Buddhist priest.)
“My big fish must be somewhere.”
A simple story: an old fisherman, no fish for 84 days, out in the sea, catches huge fish after days of struggling, comes back home, fish already eaten by sharks, old man exhausted and with no fish.
Hemingway himself denied any kind of symbolism in this book. However, after you've read it, you cannot help but apply the lessons learned in this books to your own life. Especially when you are struggling with a difficult goal, you can picture yourself as the old man fighting all alone out in the ocean to get a "fish", to save your pride and to protect your "fish" against the "sharks". It's usually during these battles that you get to know your self better. You get a deep insight of who you are, what matters most for you, what are you strengths, what is your Achilles' heel.
“I may not be as strong as I think, but I know many tricks and I have resolution.”
Especially, when the time comes that you doubt about yourself, just don't. Fight with the "weapons" you own, don't think of the ideal situations.
“Now is no time to think of what you do not have. Think of what you can do with that there is”
Yes, believe in luck. But also don't forget to practice, train, become efficient, be prepared.
“Every day is a new day. It is better to be lucky. But I would rather be exact. Then when luck comes, you are ready.”
2. What I talk when I talk about running, Haruki Murakami.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
Haruki describes in this book his struggle and his determination to be a good marathon runner. This goal seemed easy in the beginning, but later on he discovered all the challenging practicalities that put his goal even further than he initially thought.
"If possible, I was hoping to be able to wind up this book with a powerful statement like, "Thanks to all the hard training I did, I was able to post a great time at the New York City Marathon. When I finished I was really moved", and casually stroll off into the sunset with the theme song from Rocky blaring at the background. Until I actually ran the race I still clung to the hope that things would turn out that way, and was looking forward to this dramatic finale. That was my Plan A. A really great plan, I figured.
But in real life things don't go so smoothly. At certain points in our lives, when we really need a clear-cut solution, the person who knocks at our door is, more likely than not, a messenger bearing bad news. It isn't always the case, but from experience I'd say the gloomy reports far outnumber the others. The messenger touches his hand to his cap and looks apologetic, but that does nothing to improve the contents of the message. It isn't messenger's fault. No good to blame him, no good to grab him by the collar and shake him. The messenger is just conscientiously doing the job his boss assigned him. And this boss? That would be none than our old friend Reality."
During your fight, you discover different parts of yourself and the deeper you go, the more surprised you are with what you see about you. But self-discovery is not an one-shot experience in life - it's a continuum with ups and downs, and we should not expect to ever be done with it.
"It doesn't matter how old I get, but as long as I continue to live I'll always discover something new about myself. No matter how long you stand there examining yourself naked before a mirror, you'll never see reflected what's inside."
What really strikes me when reading this book, is the emphasis put not on the result of his effort but on the effort itself. The result can never be seen until you give up. And moreover, the significance of your effort is valid for you first and foremost, and for no one else.
"Even if, seen from the outside, or from some higher vantage point, this sort of life looks pointless or futile, or even extremely inefficient, it doesn't bother me. Maybe it's some pointless act like, as I've said before, pouring water into an old pan that has a hole in the bottom, but at least the effort you put into it remains. Whether it's good for anything or not, cool or totally uncool, in the final analysis what's more important is what you can't see but can feel in your heart.... These thoughts went through my head as I drove along after the triathlon, headed for home."
The usual trap: Being harsh on ourselves, punishing us for not being good enough, criticizing our effort, our skills or our talents, comparing us with others. Why be so unloving to ourselves?
After all, we are all doing our best, aren't we?
"I look up at the sky, wondering if I'll catch a glimpse of kindness there, but I don't. All I see are indifferent summer clouds drifting over the Pacific. And they have nothing to say to me. Clouds are always taciturn. I probably shouldn't be looking up at them. What I should be looking at is inside of me. Like staring down into a deep well. Can I see kindness there? No, all I see is my own nature. My own individual, stubborn, uncooperative often self-centered nature that still doubts itself--that, when troubles occur, tries to find something funny, or something nearly funny, about the situation. I've carried this character around like an old suitcase, down a long, dusty path. I'm not carrying it because I like it. The contents are too heavy, and it looks crummy, fraying in spots. I've carried it with me because there was nothing else I was supposed to carry. Still, I guess I have grown attached to it. As you might expect.”
We choose our goals because they mean something to us, because they make us feel nice. Not because we want to prove something to someone else. That's a nasty way to waste your energy, your time and your goals.
“All I do is keep on running in my own cozy, homemade void, my own nostalgic silence. And this is a pretty wonderful thing. No matter what anybody else says.”
“For me, running is both exercise and a metaphor. Running day after day, piling up the races, bit by bit I raise the bar, and by clearing each level I elevate myself. At least that’s why I’ve put in the effort day after day: to raise my own level. I’m no great runner, by any means. I’m at an ordinary – or perhaps more like mediocre – level. But that’s not the point. The point is whether or not I improved over yesterday. In long-distance running the only opponent you have to beat is yourself, the way you used to be.”
3. A tale for the time being, Ruth Ozeki.
"What do you feel at this moment?"
A woman in Canada discovers a diary of a young girl who lived many years ago in Tokyo. Even though both girls lived in different periods, they both struggled with being present in time. They both tried to find an inspiration to live and to fight for. To enjoy their life. To live every moment as it is.
"What is your supapawa (superpower)?"
This is one of the main questions of young Nao, and when she manages to find it, she is able to defeat her classmates who bully her, she can motivate her father to stop having suicidal thoughts, she becomes independent and stronger again. Finding your own strong skills takes you away from self-defeating, self-sabotaging, stressful and negative thoughts.
It keeps your inner peace protected from the "storm" outside.
These three books can make you see your life and your fighting for your goals from another view. As well as many other books.
We think we choose our books, but sometimes they choose us. I don't know how to explain that, but in some way the books you read when you are going through a specific phase in life, are there to help you deal with this specific challenge as smoothly as possible.
(Let me know what you think of these books, if you ever read them. ;-) )