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.