What are we as human beings, alive creatures, if not always seeking? Seeking love, seeking breakfast, seeking where we might have misplaced our car keys. To live is to consume something or other -- oxygen each minute, nourishment thrice a day, love and laughter wherever possible. Humankind trends towards looking, trends curious. Rumi once wisely said, "what you're seeking is seeking you." It's a secret of this universe.
2020 is finally drawing to a close. While the month of December habitually lends itself to reflection, this year yields a month of seeking only emphasized by the greater circumstances at play. Seeking answers, seeking strength, seeking security as available, we really seek to make sense of the events that have transpired. 2020 has upended so much on the societal and personal level.
What you’re seeking is seeking you, and everyone around you is engaged in the same arrangement. As we search for answers, it's important to know that no one goes through this alone. As such, there’s also a vast array of publications that speak to seeking. Pretty much all of them, if you think about it. As part of this month's editorial theme, Raise Karma is excited to offer a quick course of study with three books that make explicit cases for different facets of seeking.
Clarice Lispector, Agua Viva.
A celebrity in her own right, this historic author was born to a Russian Jewish family in the era of World War II. Her family moved to Brazil during her infancy to escape prosecution. Lispector spent her adolescence in Rio Di , where she also attended college and law school. She began writing short stories during her studies, achieving meteoric success at 23 withher first novel, Near to the Wild Heart.
Many consider Agua Viva the crown jewel in Lispector's resplendent body of work. While accruing monumental success for her writing and exploring a temporary marriage, she continued on to add numerous literary hits to her oeuvre while taking up residence in Europe and America before eventually moving back to Brazil. Unlike her other more straightforward works, Agua Viva is a mystical novella that eschews traditional narrative structure in its roundabout attempt to capture the ephemeral.
Lispector weaves stunning swaths of syntax in her native Portuguese, and Agua Viva has perpetually proven difficult to translate. New Direction published their most recent translation by Stefan Tober in 2012. The copy on that book calls Agua Viva “an unordered meditation on the nature of life and time," explaining that it "has exercised a powerful influence on Brazil's greatest artists." Every one of its 88 pages packs a punch of prose and wisdom, perhaps best summarized in terms of seeking through one passage that flattened me in December 2019:
"What moves me the most is that what I cannot see nonetheless exists. For then I have at my feet a whole unknown world that exists entire and full of rich saliva. The truth is somewhere: but no use thinking. I shall not discover it and yet I live from it."
Agua Viva demands, in an undetectable and lilting voice, that its reader lets go. The freeflow requires a measure of acceptance upon entrance -- no preconceived notions admitted. Upon sinking into the book's balmy undertow, one finds their own voice in the stream of consciousness. By beginning with Agua Viva, a seeker could perhaps forcibly check their own will at the door and allow the art of the act to unfold.
Napoleon Hill, Outwitting the Devil.
On the other end of the tonal spectrum lies Outwitting the Devil, a formerly controversial work by America's most famous self-help author. Militant in both its language and its unrelenting calls to human resilience, this book advocates for the sheer importance of seeking. Hill originally wrote the work in 1938, inspired partly by the Great Depression’s widespread malaise. Outwitting the Devil documents a conversation between the author and the devil himself -- a conversation whose actual veracity is left for the reader to decide. Hill's wife feared the work was too controversial to be published due to the criticisms it levies against institutions like the American public school system and organized religion as a whole. The man left in charge of Hill's estate after his death also had a wife who requested the work remain unpublished. Only after that man's death was the work released to the public, in June 2011.
Outwitting the Devil crafts several interesting hypotheses about the nature of good and bad in this world. The devil is not envisioned as some evil horned being. Instead, the devil is simply the negative space of an atom, our human tendencies towards heedlessness, listlessness, drifting. Just like matter in the universe is neither created nor destroyed, just like scientists posit our universe will contract back into its pre-bang pinpoint, everything evens out to one average thanks to an ever-present balance. Hill's final, post-humous publication argues that there’s only one way to outwit this force, and that’s definiteness of purpose.
That means seizing the power of your own mind for your own self and always moving from a place of informed action. While the argument feels strong, it requires its practitioner to possess a firm idea of their destination. While this can be an end goal, it requires a lot of seeking in advance to understand a purpose enough to be definite in it.
When the discovery is made, amazing changes can take shape. “Ïf I know what I want from life, demand it," Hill later writes, “and back my demand by willingness to pay life'’s full price for what I want, and refuse to accept any substitutes, the law of hypnotic rhythm takes over my desire and helps, by natural and logical means, to transmute it into its physical counterpart." In addition to these cash prizes, the practitioner also rests easy knowing their an active force for good, always outwitting the devil.
Simon Sinek, Find Your Why.
This publication follows its bestselling precursor, Start With Why, to help readers determine the mission that drives their professional lives. Find Your Why offers an opportunity to explore just what it is that we're seeking with subtlety. As one learns through an aphorism like "what you're seeking is seeking you," it's not so much about what we hope to gain or hold. Find Your Why provides step-by-step instructions and guides to help readers utilize their knowledge and the skills they need to attain the true mission driving their professional purpose. The real fulfillment comes from the journey, the everyday effort of examining and acting on that why.
"I believe fulfillment is a right and not a privilege," Sinek states. "We are all entitled to wake up in the morning inspired to go to work, feel safe when we're there and return home fulfilled at the end of the day. Achieving that fulfillment starts with understanding exactly WHY we do what we do."
Seeking graciously offers positive returns for those who practice it bearing this final insight in mind. By ceaselessly striving towards our greatest selves, we actually enact positive change in the world, giving a gift greater than one person alone. First of all, we're contributing positive energy to a world forever at odds with itself. Also, we lead by example. As Sinek says, "the exercises in this book will help guide you on a path to long-term success and fulfillment, for both you and your colleagues." When we live in constant, resounding harmony with our purpose, we pass that positive energy onto everyone around us, encouraging them to do the same.
Seeking is a multifaceted process, a lifelong endeavor, and an act without end. It's self-contradicting -- we need not seek, because everything we need is within us. However, on the other hand, this responsibility to strive, to push, to move forward, feels like our human birthright. If we are not looking, then what are we doing? Reading about the act of seeking puts us in touch with its omnipresence, fostering a peaceful coexistence so it feels more like a privilege than a hore.
Here, we've offered three literary works as a potential path to a month-long crash course in seeking. Agua Viva unplugs readers from the hypnotic frenzy of daily life and pulls them into a more esoteric, airy sphere, ready to receive. Outwitting the Devil imbues this peace with a necessary urgency, reminding us that we must stay at this practice with mindful purpose each day. Find Your Why grounds the whole practice in reality, with an actual guide to applying the principles of seeking in daily life. Sure, we are seeking everyday, but fortunately since we all share in this journey, we have the writings and works of others to guide us along the way. Just as no two journeys are the same, no reading list resonates at the same frequency between individuals. Let us know what you think of these books and which works you'd add to the list! Seek on, and stay tuned.