A week ago, someone asked me what books were great influences in my life. I appreciated very much the interest and kindness of such person, yet I think this type of question is always posed incorrectly, since it implicitly assumes that “books influence one´s life”. In the same line of thought, it´s often assumed in modern culture that music, art, science, information, T.V. or Internet contents in general “influence our life”… Yet this assumption, as far as I´ve observed since my teens -in myself and in a representative sample of others- is not corroborated by fact.
Constant refined observation exposes to us how exclusively experiential knowledge has a decisive influence in one´s life; this is, knowledge of one´s environment, of one´s personal challenges, of one´s adventures, of one´s technical skills, of one´s strengths and weaknesses, of one´s health, of one´s work projects and initiatives, of one´s relations with the other sex, of one´s relation with one´s family, etc. Each degree of experiential knowledge correlates to a cultural expression that assists us in conceptually and symbolically understanding the specifics of our experience. For instance, in movies this is often artistically exposed by the modification of the correlating music themes, as the main protagonist -by facing experiential challenge- passes through diverse stages of personal growth.
It´s key to keep in mind that when we passionately and repeatedly read a book, novel, listen to a music piece or see a film, we are actually attempting to read ourselves, attempting to discover how our being can be expressed by means of a given narrative, technical mediation or worldview. And the way to truly assimilate such frameworks is by passing from passive assimilation to active creation; this is, by creating one´s self-expression with such frameworks, always taking into account that our life is the key reference point for organizing the content and making it gain added cultural value. In other words: our individual life is always the departure point… In this sense, if someone writes on the topic of tantrism without having gained formerly any tantric experience or tantric initiation, such work can acquire a scholarly value that might be an excellent bibliographic reference to consult, but such work lacks any substantial cultural value, that is to say, it won´t assist anyone who actually had a tantric experience to understand such experience. As Nietzsche affirmed, we must always write with blood, and I would add that this advice must also be expanded to all aspects of our life´s self-expression.
Another gross misconception is to believe that individuals who like the same books, movies, films, etc. have more chances to be better friends. This assumption either implies a very superficial concept of “friend” or, in the case of true friendships, is either not corroborated by fact… When experiential knowledge has been successfully assimilated through the assistance of a given cultural framework, what tends to immediately occur is that one´s circle of friends or environment is modified. So we can affirm that the friends we freely choose are an expression of a new degree of experiential knowledge, of new personal values, which emerge in parallel to the discovery of a new and more integral cultural framework. This is why great educators are always very cautious to recommend books to their students, and rather encourage them to gain a free space for developing experiential knowledge. This precaution avoids the dreadful trap of dilettantism, the old “letter killing the spirit” which is sadly expressed in the case of those intellectuals who digress with a high degree of sophistication on philosophy, esoterics, literature, History, science or occultism without being capable of addressing the fundamental facts that affect their personal lives.
So, the correct question is not “What books influenced our lives?” but rather “Which books better express the challenges we had to face in different phases of personal growth?”