Reading for Pleasure and Independence of Mind
Reading is one of my favorite activities. Reading fiction can be a way to relax as well as leave our concerns behind and step into someone else’s world. Non-fiction books and essays can inform, challenge, and inspire us. Reading, especially in book length and depth, expands our vocabulary and gives us an opportunity to perceive the mind being itself, as knowing itself. We read and, as with imaginative, creative, or critical thinking, experience the power within us to know, visualize and illuminate the world from the inside out.
Sometimes, we can’t discern what we think or feel until we hear or read someone else’s words and then feel a kinship or opposition. We read a paragraph and it’s like suddenly discovering a great canyon in the ground never seen before or recognizing, as if for the first time, how the earth floats in the infinite ocean called sky. In the beauty of another’s speech our own becomes known and beautiful. We find communion.
What do we do when we read to turn marks on a page into insights? How do we step out of ourselves, so we hear another? How can we read so we’re not simply working to confirm what we already believe but instead deepen both our understanding and our lives? How do we get ourselves in a similar mindset as the author, so we hear them in a kindred way as they listened for us?
In the Summer, 2021 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review there’s a review written by Matthew Abrahams of professor and journalist George Saunder’s book, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life. Saunders wrote: “To study the way we read is to study how the mind works… the part of the mind that reads a story is also the part that reads the world…” In this I realized a kindred longing, to study how I read as a practice in studying myself. If I could read words and notice when my attention drifted or sank into an ocean of ruminations, depths normally hidden might be revealed.
Saunders said, “each time a writer returns to the story, it is as a different version of themselves.” That is both the excitement and challenge of re-writing. Likewise, each time we re-read a paragraph, it is as a different reader. We see more or see differently. We are more open to others and treat differences as essential nutrients in growing ourselves.
When we are about to read, we can pause, take a few breaths, and clear space in our minds for something new to enter. We can keep a pen and paper next to us, so we can converse with what we hear. We can repeat to ourselves each word we read, especially words that stand out or confuse us, and notice what arises inside us, what echoes in our breath, our thoughts, and our feelings.
We can ask why the author said what they did. What evidence or reasons did they have? What are the implications of their theory or point of view?…
**To read the whole article, please go to The Good Men Project.