Book learning, self-knowledge, and spirituality, while composing the three cornerstones of our lives, and thus too of any real effort to change ourselves, are never entirely separate, but rather more like the three overlapping or merging sides of the same triangle. Nevertheless, each has its more or less distinct character and thus areas of focus, influence and purpose. What I call “book learning” comprises, in the most primary sense, everything that makes up the common narrative of our lives as people, the history of everyone, anything and everything as it relates to everyone, anything and everything else. Differences and similarities, stories and values and feelings, however truly or falsely, accurately or inaccurately, fully or partially expressed, and in whatever form or medium we choose to do so—all this constitutes the enormous domain of book learning.
The fact that book learning is constantly bumping up against matters of spirituality and self-knowledge doesn’t at all take away from equally important fact that, in the moment by moment execution of most of our daily lives, the boundaries separating it from the other two are usually clear, either formally or informally.
The social and cultural life of human beings has evolved to such a point now that for many of us, and particularly for the most advantaged and well-educated among us, the range of choices in the decision of where to start or end our narratives is so huge that, in fact, almost anything we actually wind up saying immediately tells a great deal about us, if one were to try and use that to compare us to everyone else.
Practically everything we express, in whatever form, at some level and to some extent contains or connects to a story, as well as whatever values and emotions have come to be associated with it. And of course, each of these stories is connected to myriad other ones, even if most of those connections are not made immediately obvious.
So arguably book learning, of the three cornerstones posited here as critical to both life and change, is the most difficult to define. This is not because it could be construed to encompass everything, because in different ways all three of these components could be seen as doing that. Rather, it’s because, of the three, book learning covers the widest variety of subject matter. By analogy, if self-knowledge focuses on the life of just one living entity, however comprehensive and complex, and spirituality on the metaphysical and moral basis of any number of such entities, book learning must deal not just at some level with all of that, but also with everything else pertaining to the interconnections within all those entities as well, and everything associated with those interconnections.
So, obviously, where and how this book starts (which of course it already has) in expressing its definition of book learning and what among all this narrative is the most important thing upon which to focus, is going to tell you a lot about the author. In some ways, even more than our expressions regarding self-knowledge, our presentations of book learning are the more autobiographical.
To proceed, then, where the narrative portion of this work really begins is with the following statements: within the last few hundred years, the human species has, through its own technological successes, been increasingly presented with both the opportunity and necessity to make the biggest change in itself since human social history began. To some extent, it has succeeded in meeting this enomous challenge. But at this moment in time, in the spring of the year 2011, to many it often looks like it has not and will not succeed in changing itself fully enough in time to avoid, if not utter extinction, an unprecedented scale of human suffering, along with the attendant economic, ecological, social and cultural collapse.