schwalbe-closeupLast month I found myself at YVR, awaiting a flight, oddly without anything to read. I skimmed the magazines and books, noting the jacked-up Canadian prices. Will Schwalbe’s The End of Your Life Book Club, which I recognized from a review, caught my eye. Flipping through the book, I saw a reference to Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil, which I’d read in June. He’s one of my favorite authors so, on a whim, I bought Schwalbe’s memoir.

It turned out to be a gem (definitely worth my $20). Schwalbe’s plot is driven by his mother’s diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, but the book is really about family, friendship, and how books can deepen our relationships and self awareness.

I could relate. I have always loved to read. It’s no understatement to say that books have given me solace and kept me sane throughout my life. Nowadays, I spend [too] much time online, getting my newspaper/magazine fix by clicking from one article to another. But when I make time for books, especially novels (in print, on paper), I’m much happier! A quote from the movie Shadowlands sums it up best for me: We read to know we’re not alone.

From January to April, I was busy and also prepping for my Iyengar yoga assessment, so my reading involved mainly work and Google News. The week after my assessment, I stopped at my neighborhood library and chose three titles off the paperbacks rack holding “Classics”: The End of the Affair by Graham Greene, a re-read from a decade ago; Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse; and The Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham. (I could have searched the entire library collection, but sometimes it’s a relief to limit my choices to whatever’s on the rack.)

My two essentials

If I had to pick two things that I could not live without, I would pick reading and yoga. (I’m talking about activities, not people: activities that can sustain you regardless of how the rest of your life is going.) I can’t imagine stopping doing either of them. I love writing, which would be third runner-up, and teaching yoga, but these are somewhat secondary to–and contingent on–reading and my own yoga practice.

I like the way yoga and reading are solitary, yet shared, experiences. I like how I can pace myself, stopping to think or to repeat/reread. I like that they catalyze thoughts and feelings and introduce fascinating new worlds. I like that they can bring deep concentration. I like that they’re inexpensive and can be done anytime, anywhere.

You might counter that reading is essential and not an apt choice. But I’m talking about non-essential reading. Many adults haven’t touched a novel in years. My dad, for instance, loves the outdoors and might pick golf and gardening/bonsai as his two essential activities. He is an avid newspaper reader, but he could probably do without fiction. Others might pick singing, dancing, running, swimming, painting, surfing, fishing, or cooking. No activity is better or worse than another, of course, and our choices could change over time.

What about you? What activities sustain you?

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