Mindful Reading

So often even when we are reading for enjoyment we miss the opportunity to fully experience the words and their meaning.  In a recent article in Mindful Magazine, my dear friend and colleague, Mirabai Bush wrote a wonderful article titled: Simple Mindfulness Practices You Can Use Every Day . To read the full article click here, below is an excerpt on mindful reading.

Every minute of our lives serves up something new and gives us an opportunity to learn. But when it comes to the usual ways of learning—reading, writing, and listening to others—we often lose the freshness of direct experience and instead just shovel information into our brains. Mirabai Bush suggests how to learn more deeply and with more enjoyment.

Mindful Reading

Reading these days, whether on a screen or on paper, is more often a race to finish the text than a search for meaning. Woody Allen captured it: “I took a speedreading course and read War and Peace in 20 minutes. It involves Russia.”

Mindful reading is radically different. It slows down the reader and the reading—that alone changes the experience. It is a process of quiet reflection that requires mindful attentiveness, letting go of distracting thoughts and opinions to be fully in the moment with the text. It moves the reader into a calm awareness, allowing for a more profound experience and understanding. Here are some methods for mindful reading:

The Wrap-Around

Before reading, sit quietly for some minutes. Bring your attention to your breath, letting go of thoughts and sensations, returning to the breath again and again. Then read. Notice if you read with more focus and appreciation. When you finish reading, sit again for some minutes, again bringing your mind to your breath. At the end of your practice, notice what you have learned from the reading.

Savoring a Resonant Phrase

Sit quietly and then read a short piece, perhaps a page long. What phrase stands out for you? Return to that phrase and repeat it to yourself, perhaps several times. Just sit with it. What does it evoke? Notice what images or ideas or memories arise. Do any of the words have meaning beyond the obvious? What meaning does this phrase give to the rest of what you’re reading? Hold the phrase in your mind, giving it time to suggest more to you. Now reread the full piece. How is it different? Has your relationship to it changed?

One from Many

Reading doesn’t have to be private. You can do this practice with as few as two people, but the more the merrier. Each person has a copy of the same poem or piece of prose. All sit quietly and focus on the breath. One person reads the entire text aloud. All sit in silence. After a while, one person reads the first line aloud. Out of the silence after that line, the next person who feels moved to read speaks the second line. And so on, until it is finished. Ask yourselves whether hearing the same words in different voices affects the meaning.

Mindful reading is radically different from racing to cram information in. It slows down the reader and the reading—that alone changes the experience.