This is part 3 of the Visionary Fiction as Personal Therapy Series, which was inspired after I learned about bibliotherapy in my psychology classes. It led me to discover an article by Debbie McCullis in the February, 2014 issue of the Journal of Poetry Therapy. McGullis listed a four step process used in bibliotherapy, which strongly resonated with me as the process sounds similar to why I write visionary fiction. In part one, we discussed the first step, recognition, which is the moment when a reader gets a sense of familiarity while reading. In part two, we examined recognition through the lens of a writer’s perspective. In this week’s installment, we will discuss what happens after recognition strikes. We want to understand why we had such a strong reaction to the text we had just read, which brings us into the second step, examination.
Parwez wrote much of his work in Urdu but his exposition translation of the Quran was available in English. What struck me from day one was how this exposition seemed so much more scientific, and culturally neutral, than commentaries I had read in other translations – which to me was conducive to a book containing a universal message. It, along with his other writings, also brought into sharp focus this emphasis on Islam as not religion. He wrote on controversial topics firmly but with refreshing honesty, constantly asking his readers to check with the Quran for themselves to verify his claims. While gradually accessing his work and studying the Quran for myself, I reacted to this bombardment of new information with a mixture of excitement, elation and relief. For the first time in my life, I was being shown an alternative view of my faith – and most unexpectedly, of reality as well. (Website)
My kundalini awakening caused a great deal of confusion as I didn’t understand what it meant or why it happened. No matter what I’d read or heard about the subject, I didn’t believe any of the explanations. I gave up on religion about this time, but the reason behind my exit is for another blog post. Suffice it to say, I was an empty hard drive, ready to receive new data. If the truth were out there, I wanted to download it on my own, or I wouldn’t believe in anything! I read a plethora of religious and philosophical texts during this phase of my life, especially books that challenged my worldview. I wanted to expand my knowledge about how and why people believe the things that they do. I surmised that reading every viewpoint on religion would eventually reveal some profound truth. What I discovered was not one ideology had absolute answers. I had willingly made myself a prisoner of my beliefs because of conditionings that were passed down to me by well-intentioned parents.
I continued to read books that challenged me. While reading the classic, What the Buddha Taught: Revised and Expanded Edition with Texts from Suttas and Dhammapada by Walpola Rahula, I was stricken by the Buddha’s path to enlightenment. Tired of all the rituals and promises of enlightenment, he threw away all his beliefs, sat under the Bodhi tree, and figured it all out for himself. My excitement over reading about his spiritual quest came upon my examining how my inner-life was similar to his. I tried to follow a path that was laid out for me by my upbringing, tortured myself in the process, and then finally had enough of the programming and erased it. If the truth were out there, I’d find it. The truth I came to was similar to the Buddha’s, and I did learn it on my own—before ever reading about him. I will expand upon this more in the next installment. But what I will say now is that the truth really is Universal! (Website)
Since this exercise made me think about it (self-reflection is good!), I discovered that I gauge my reaction (immediate gut feel as compared to later intellectual analysis) to a novel by the way it lingers after I close the book, either while reading it or after completion. The more the story’s aspects spill over into my thoughts, imagination, dreams, or journalling, especially in illogical ways or at unanticipated times, the higher I gauge its impact. I’ve found this phase to be more uncomfortable than not, akin to a particularly grisly murder scene that keeps repeating like a too-spicy meal. It’s bothersome, thus prompting me to interact in some way, if only to swat it away.
Since my own visionary fiction sphere of specialization is reincarnation, specifically the exploration of a prior life’s impact on the present, I have to credit The Reincarnation of Peter Proud (1975) by Max Erlich (VF, certainly, by today’s standard) as the hardest gut punch I’ve ever taken from a novel. Prior to reading it, I had only a peripheral interest in prior lives. But that damned book haunted me during the reading and for years afterwards until I hunkered down and wrote my own reincarnation novel. Nevertheless, until I sat down to do this exercise, I’d forgotten about Peter Proud and its impact on my belief system, writing career, and whole life. Fortunately, it had not forgotten me. Not sure I still had a copy, I went through my bookshelves just now and there it was: a battered little paperback with pages now brown and brittle with age. It was an emotional reunion. That’s some lingering reaction. (Website)
I have experienced a sensation on reading a passage that pulls on my psyche, which may lie somewhere between Recognition and Examination. It is a physiological reaction that feels like I’ve entered an altered state. I become aware of a larger reality, and sense how the passage is related to that reality. As it is intensely physical, it is a moment of Recognition, but as it leads me to a larger thought, it enters Examination.
I often have these sensations reading spiritual material, or passages that border on fiction, such as the Don Juan books of Carlos Castaneda. In A Yacqui Way of Knowledge, Don Juan talks about the four enemies in dealing with life: fear, clarity, power, and old age. Having recognized a larger truth in this discussion, I examined in my mind its relation to the Hindu stages of life, student, warrior, judge, and brahmin. Later, Don Juan reveals eight circles of consciousness, pointing out that everyday reality is lodged in only the first circle. As a youth, I recall receiving that altered sense of a higher reality on reading this passage, but in examining the statement I could only think: “Whoa!”
I don’t often have this sensation while reading fiction. Is it because my mind assumes it is fiction and not real? I doubt it, since so much fiction connects us to a sense of reality. I might be transported in my imagination to a fantastic new world, such as in the Dune series, but I retain an inner and physical distance from it. I may recognize a tremendously innovative or imaginative concept, such as the notion of a karass in Vonnegut’s Cat’s Cradle, a group of people whose fates are intertwined, but it is always an intellectual recognition and examination of the concept, not a physical, vivid one.
This realization puzzles me. I may be forgetting a fictional reading experience where I entered an altered state. Or you may have this experience readily with fiction, the way I have it by merely glancing at an inspirational quote from Buddha or Deepak Chopra. As an aspiring writer of Visionary Fiction, my conundrum has me re-examining my work. That’s Examination.
Next in the series…
In Part 4 we will discuss the juxtaposition stage where the reader develops insight after processing what was read.
This is part 3 of the Visionary Fiction as Personal Therapy Series. In part one, we discussed recognition, the moment when a reader gets a sense of familiarity while reading. In part two, we examined recognition through the lens of a writer’s perspective.
Eleni Papanou is an award-winning author and perpetual student of life. Visit her website for news and updates