Where (If Anywhere) Does Reading Fit into Meditation
This post is really a question. Maybe it’s the writers I’ve been connecting with over the past few years, but a lot of us seem to be getting interested in meditation in some form or another. That form, for me, tends to be a mix of wishful thinking, intimidation, and impatience. In other words, I’ve tried it a few times and gotten discouraged by how hard it is to sit in stillness–body and mind. Yes, I know that’s not giving it a fair shot, and I have goals to do better, even if they’re not goals I’m actively working toward. I do manage to get to some kind of meditation/quiet while I’m in a yoga class–I think because my mind gets to think just a tiny bit about what my body’s doing, gets to stay just busy enough that the other thoughts go away and some quiet can ease in. My next step is to get myself to show up to the Sunday morning meditation class they offer at my yoga studio. It’s not too early, so I think I might actually make it there.
Anyway, back to the question: Does reading have a place in meditation or, if not in the specific activity, in the shared goal of quieting the brain. For decades, I have used reading as an escape–not necessarily from any specific problems that might be going on in my life, but from the general business/anxiety that comes with that life. (And I’m pretty sure this is true for a lot of us!) If I have a bad bout of insomnia, I’ll drag myself out of bed and take a book into a hot bath. My recharge routine on a weekend is essentially to plant myself on the couch for several hours with a book (or two!) and just go away. This year, with going back to work part-time, I’m trying to get myself up a half hour early, so I can sit with a cup of tea and a book before the day starts.
Basically, books have always done for me what I think meditation does for people who manage to actively and successfully practice it. It quiets my brain. It settles me down. It replaces the to-dos and what-ifs that can get to circling around in my brain like a whirlpool, replaces them with a story and characters that draw me into another place, a place where my own plans don’t follow. I found this year that if I don’t give myself this time in the mornings, I basically shoot straight from morning wake-up plans to all-day work tasks with no transition, and–honestly–the work tasks are just so much harder to focus on. The quiet spot lets me put the first set of thoughts away and move calmly into the work of the day.
BUT…I’m sure this is why other people get up early to, you know, actually meditate. Without the book. Without the replacement of one story (mine) with another (the author’s). I am not emptying my brain when I read, I’m filling up all the space with something calming, yes, but something external. I’ pretty sure this isn’t actually the point of meditation, or the process.
Obviously, I’m not giving up the books.
And I am going to keep trying to bring/thinking about bringing some more meditative meditation into my life. BUT I am wondering whether this kind of mind-resting, if not mind-opening, doesn’t fall somewhere on the spectrum of meditation’s purpose. Not just for readers, but for true meditation practitioners.
It’s a good question. In my experience, meditation is learning just to be with whatever comes up. By reading, you are simply replacing one set of stimuli with another. Meditation is not about not thinking anything or sitting still for hours. There are many ways to meditate – sitting, standing, walking, lying down, in the midst of activity, in a queue…
Try looking up Sharon Salzberg’s books and podcasts for more info.
Thanks for the thoughts! I will definitely look around for Sharon Salzberg’s stuff and see what she has to say.
I have heard mindfulness described as focusing on one thing at a time. If you’re washing the dishes, wash the dishes. If you’re walking to the bus stop, walk to the bus stop. If you’re reading a book, read the book.
It sounds to me as if you are considering carving out a period of stillness in which you are not doing anything else. I think reading is different from that, but it’s not worse or better. Just different.
If you really want to have a time of stillness, you can make time for it. And if it gives you something you need, you can continue it.
Definitely just different. But I think it does serve a purpose that nothing else in my life fills–quieting my brain. I’m guessing if I got the meditation thing down, I might have two methods for that. 🙂
Great question, Becky! I think it’s important to find out what it is you’d like from meditation. If it’s just to quiet the mind, there are many techniques out there that can give you that experience. But from the way you describe your experience with losing the “Becky” story while you’re reading, I feel like you’re looking into a deeper way of being present beyond the usual day to day life story that we create.
I’ve been meditating for many years, but very little of that meditation is done in sitting form. What I’ve been discovering is that when we look inward and observe what lights up our thoughts and actions and senses, we begin to feel in a very deep way, the very substance that all of life–including ourselves–is made up of.
I began meditating by just finding quiet moments where I could observe and listen to what was going on right then. Taking a walk and listening to the sounds of nature, feeling the sun or wind on your body, watching the thoughts flow through your mind, observing the feelings that arise, smelling the pungent earth smells, and just being totally present for it all.
You can notice too that “Becky” judgments and opinions will arise. Observe what lights up all of that. Feel it deeply in your gut. And notice that whatever comes and goes and changes is temporary. Feel deeply what never changes.
This kind of meditation can be done anywhere anytime. All of us can access this openness to understanding the very source of life. I wish you much joy in your journey, and I’d love to hear how it goes.
Lorraine, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m not sure about deeper, but I would like to be present day-to-day, as you say–and if deeper needs to come with that, I’m open! 🙂 The tricky part for me is still sustaining the calm, the mindfulness, once I’ve gotten up from the meditation. Hoping that will come!
Great question, Becky, and I’m enjoying the responses as well. I do know what you mean – when I’m reading and really engaged with a book, the book is all there is. There’s no such thing as time or space or other people – just the story I’m involved in reading. And perhaps that’s a type of mindfulness.
I think it has to be A type, Kelly. And then there are others… all part of the goal, maybe.