Three years ago, I bought an iPad mini.
I intended to use it, primarily, as an eReader. The idea of carrying all my books around in one place was a dream come true. The future was here—it didn’t have flying cars, but it did have portable libraries. And that was enough for me.
I’d be able to read whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I could highlight passages, bookmark and unbookmark pages, make notes and edit them, all without doing any damage to these lovely creations called books. I’d be able to increase the font, which would be better for my eyes. And I could read in the dark. Electronic books were cheaper and I could have them on demand. The joyful possibilities were endless.
Instead, I suffered.
Everyone has a different definition of suffering. I have about fifteen myself. But here’s one that is starting to make more sense to me:
Suffering is resistance to what is.
Suffering is opposition to the present moment and demand for the next moment. Suffering is having this but wanting that. Suffering is the search for the next thing. Suffering is the mental roaming we do for what might be.
Suffering, for instance, is trying to read something brilliant, while wondering about something better.
Suffering is opening your iPad, settling into a good book—for about a minute—before remembering the text message you didn’t reply to. It’s highlighting a perfect passage, emailing it to a friend, and then remembering the other emails you forgot to send. Suffering is spending your reading time in the iBooks store, looking for the next new release.
Suffering is a mind that thinks about what it could be doing, rather than what it is doing.
In other words, suffering is what my iPad trained me to do, for three years.
Until this Christmas, when my wife gave me a paperback called Lila, by Marilynne Robinson, a sequel of sorts to one of my favorite novels of all time. At first, I actually considered repurchasing it as an eBook. However, in a moment of blessed clarity, I decided repurchasing a Christmas present would cross a line into crazy I just wasn’t willing to traverse. So, instead, for the first time in years, I sat down to read a paperback.
And I couldn’t do it.
The prose was powerful. Poetry in paragraph form. And moments like this: “Kindness was something he didn’t even know he wanted, and here it was. It made him teary and restless…” Phrases to rest upon and sink into. Words that can teach you something about yourself, if you can only sit still long enough to let them.
But my iBrain.
I wanted to flick faster through the pages. I wondered what notifications I was missing. I thought of things I needed to add to my to-do list. I remembered the purchases I wanted to make on Amazon.
But more than anything, my mind just wanted something else.
It wanted to move faster. Do more. Have more. Not because what was in front of me wasn’t pleasant, but because it had gotten used to wanting something other than what was present. And that is an exquisite kind of suffering.
I realized I was facing a decision: do I keep reading books on my iPad, or do I start reading them in paperback again. But, even more importantly, the decision I faced was this:
Do I want to live an iPad-life or a paperback-life?
An iPad-life is one of endless wandering. It is always pointing at something else. It puts its hand in your back and nudges you in the direction of more searching and thinking and doing. It makes looking for the next thing seem like the best thing.
But a paperback-life?
Well, like a good book, it invites you to stay. It invites you to settle down and to settle in. When you read a paperback, there is nothing else to do inside of it. Nowhere to go. No one else to talk to; only the pages talking to you. It’s like quicksand made of peace, pulling you into it.
Yeah, I want to live a paperback-life.
I want to settle into all of it. The achingly beautiful parts and the parts that, well, just ache. Because aching is pain, but suffering is the unwillingness or inability to be present to the pain. Suffering is wanting to fix it instead of feel it. Suffering is wanting to solve it instead of experiencing it.
How about you? Do you want to live a paperback-life?
Do you want to sink into every word and paragraph and page? Do you want to savor all of it—the happiness and the pain? Do you want to cease your resistance to what is, even if it hurts, and instead find your way to the bottom if it? Because something beautiful waits for you in the pages of a paperback-life—you’ll find really good words like presence and patience and resilience and acceptance and wakefulness and peace.
You’ll find grace—like a kindness you didn’t even know you wanted, making you teary, with joy.
In his debut novel, Kelly weaves a page-turning, plot-twisting tale that explores the spiritual depths of identity and relationships, amidst themes of healing, grace, faith, forgiveness, and freedom.
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Dr. Kelly Flanagan is a psychologist, author, consultant, and speaker who enjoys walking with people through the three essentials of a truly satisfying life: worthiness, belonging, and purpose. His blog writings have been featured in Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, The 5 Love Languages, and the TODAY Show. Kelly is the author of Loveable and True Companions.