Virtually every activity you engage with can be commandeered as an opportunity for mindfulness. The activity in which you are currently engaged, reading, is no exception to this rule. Indeed, reading unlocks characteristics and states of mind within us that lend themselves very well to mindfulness and meditation.
One of the activities most associated with mindfulness and meditation is breathing. Counting breaths, noticing the quality of the breath, slowing the breath, essentially being mindful of the breath; these are some of the attentions you might employ to the activity of breathing in order to make a meditation of it.
Reading is also an activity! So, there is no reason why it cannot also be used as a meditative tool. It could be argued that mindfulness is simply the art of doing whatever you are doing at any given moment with presence. Getting the most out of your current task or action by not being passive, but by being fully engaged in it on a multi-sensory level; this is at the heart of mindfulness meditation. There is so much to notice when engaging with text; it is the perfect activity.
Why Does Reading Make for Effective Meditation?
Have you ever been so engrossed in a book that you have forgotten about the world around you? Have you ever looked up from the page and realised that it has grown dark outside without you noticing? Is this not a pretty clear sign of absolute focus on a single activity? It is certainly an example of escapism working at its best. Escapism, you might say, is not what we are after here. However, there are similarities between this and a state of mindfulness.
Many of us use mindfulness meditation to calm ourselves. We use it to bring our attention inward, quieten peripheral stimuli and to focus ourselves in the present moment. When engaged with a great book or interesting article, these things happen without us having to think about it.
When we read our brain is alive; you are producing your own images, sounds and feelings in your imagination. It is this that makes the action such a great candidate for meditation. It offers you opportunities for mindfulness on two levels; in the physical act of reading, and in the cognitive reactions to the physical act. You can be mindful of the feel of the book, the texture of the pages, the fonts used and the smell of the paper. You can also enact mindfulness upon the world you have created in your head; take time to appreciate the gifts of your imagination.
What Should You Read?
Not all texts are necessarily appropriate for a mindful reading meditation. For example, academic writing, such as business or text books are not ideal. These non-fiction texts are not written to be enjoyed as a form of recreation. They are not relaxing to read. They are also full of facts, problems and absolutes; not a lot of room for intellectual fluidity or imagination! It is best to steer clear of these if you are looking for a good, meditative read.
Fiction is best. Something not too traumatic or hard hitting is probably preferable, but as long as it is something that interests and engages you, it doesn’t really matter too much.
There is this odd pressure when it comes to reading; we can become preoccupied reading as many books as possible, to cram them in, like it’s some sort of competition. But what does this really achieve other than being able to say that you have read loads of books? Have you really enjoyed reading them? Take your time and don’t feel obliged to race through to the end because you feel you must for some reason. Enjoy the journey, instead of focusing solely on the destination!
A Mindful Reading Meditation
Books might not be your thing. But we have all indulged in an interesting article on our lunch break, haven’t we? It might even be the reason you are here at this very moment! Here is a quick guide as to how to turn your break-time browse into a quick mindfulness meditation.
- Consider the device you are reading from. How big is the screen? Is it clean? How cluttered is your browser; have you got an abundance of tabs open? Notice the brightness of the light coming from the screen.
- When you begin to read, pay attention to the movement of your eyes as they scan the text. Experience the sensation of the action.
- Throughout the activity, notice your breathing and your heart-rate. Do they change in reaction to the content of your chosen text? If they do change, try to relax and keep your breath steady.
- Read with intent. With each sentence consider, ‘Have I read all of the words properly? Have I understood everything?’
- How did this article make you feel? Notice this and ask yourself why this is so.
By Chris Thomson
Reading is a wonderful way to relax. However, if reading isn’t your thing, here are a few different ways to alleviate tension and stress: 10 Ways to Help Reduce Stress
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