Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Learning To Be....

A new book has just come out from Codhill Press, on which I had the good fortune to be the editor. Learning To Be Human is by Jason Stern, publisher of Chronogram magazine. It is comprised of selections from thirteen years of Jason's monthly Esteemed Reader column, in which he addressed the matters on his mind from the perspective of Awakening.

What a pleasure it was for me to edit this book! The project came at just the right time in my beginning studies of nonduality. I'm grateful for the growth experience, as well as the work.

I’ve been a regular reader of Chronogram since 1995 and always enjoyed Jason’s column, so it’s not farfetched to imagine that I had read all of these essays, one at a time, each in its original context. Depending on my own state of mind every month, some were memorable, perhaps even profound; others less so. They came like baseballs from a pitching machine, each replacing the one before it. Other readers probably felt the same way.

However, there is an entirely different, more powerful, experience awaiting the reader of this collection. I began to sense that fact as I sifted through years of raw material, rejected, selected, rearranged, and tweaked these pieces, laboring to bring them coherently together into one volume. But it was not until I took a final full pass through the compilation, from beginning to end, that I realized the new power in these pages, the impact of each essay amplified by its juxtaposition to all the others. By being gathered from multiplicity into oneness, the disparate segments are transformed. It was Aristotle in the Metaphysics who gave us this gem: “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

This rebirth works on several levels. First, subverting the linear march of monthly installments twists time back on itself. A book carries a simultaneity that a periodical cannot, so one experiences its content in a sort of suspended present. It’s more Now-ish.

More important, immersion in the concentrate of the author’s thought makes it tangible. Vision clears. It becomes plain that there is a deeply-felt unity of philosophy running through these explorations. They are all “of a piece.” In some, the spine is developing, in others it’s fully formed. The work is both introspective and world-engaged, both reasoned and passionate. The ideas here are mined from the deepest veins in every wisdom tradition of the world. This is not scattershot column-scribbling that makes topical glances on the way to meeting publication deadlines.

And finally, one of the real pleasures of reading these thoughts gathered from across the years is the almost journal-like sense of the author's voice, spirit, and personal trajectory. His past, his interests, his family. It is a peek into another’s life, to which we’ve been invited with heart. This is something to be approached with reverence. You will experience, as I did, the privilege of getting to know another human being a little better.

Thanks, Jason, for being my teacher.


  1. What a wonderful editing experience, drawing from material you already knew so well.

  2. I was very aware when I started looking at my own book of poems that the collection would have to work as a whole. I’m just struggling through a book of short stories at the moment which are thematically-linked (supposedly) but are by different authors and in (very) different styles and I’m not enjoying it that much so it must have been a challenge to select from sixteen years’ worth of work and make something that felt like a unified work.

  3. Malcolm, yes, it was both fun and enlightening.

    Jim, I had that experience a few times publishing a regional literary journal, finding a thread amongst many disparate works. It's a game I love. In this case, there were so many pieces to work with that I needed to group them into somewhat arbitrary thematic sections, a creative exercise in itself.