April 2014

Reading as Meditation

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Have you thought about giving meditation a try, but haven’t gotten around to it? Or perhaps you’ve meditated in the past, but not recently? Although traditional meditation can be very beneficial, sometimes it can seem too daunting or too time-consuming. It turns out that many activities can be done as a form of meditation, including walking, listening to music, writing in a journal and reading. This month let’s take a look at various aspects of reading as meditation.

There is a long history of reading sacred texts for purposes such as centering one’s self and calming one’s mind. In addition to such texts, nowadays there are numerous types of books that can be used for reflective purposes. See the list of recommended books in this issue of Blue River Monthly for some suggestions.

Benefits and advantages of meditative reading

Centering one’s self and calming one’s mind are just two of the benefits of meditative reading. Another benefit is that concentrating on an inspirational reading can help us to fully inhabit the present moment. When we are fully in the present moment, we are really experiencing our lives, instead of dwelling in the past or racing to the future. Such readings can also encourage us to view our concerns in new ways and to realize how our concerns fit into the bigger picture.

Inspirational readings can remind us that we are connected to the rest of the universe. When we are physically alone, such readings remind us that we are not truly alone. These readings aren’t simply words on pages; they’re a type of soul-to-soul communication.

An additional benefit from meditative reading is that you can gain insights about your life and about the universe in general. You may sometimes find that one of those insights will encourage you to take action—perhaps to try something new or to finish something you already started.

A noteworthy advantage of reading as meditation is that it can be done almost anywhere: when you’re on a plane or train, when you’re at home in bed due to illness, when you’re waiting in line. Another advantage is that you only need a few minutes to read something inspirational, so it’s an activity that can be done even on a busy day.

Ways to read meditatively

There are different ways to engage in meditative reading. One is to obtain a “daybook” that contains a short reading for each day of the year (365 or 366, depending on whether February 29th is included). The list of books in this issue includes a couple of examples of such daybooks. A terrific practice can be to make time for that day’s reading in the morning, to establish the tone for the day.

Alternatively, you can just engage in meditative reading as the need arises. It can be nice to have a collection of inspirational books from which to choose. These days, you may want to store such books electronically on a tablet, so they’re easy to take with you.

Reading as meditation can be a lifeline in periods of great stress. During such periods, sitting still for traditional meditation might be too difficult; you might feel too agitated and worried to attempt it. Spending five or ten minutes reading something meditative may be more feasible and may help you to be calm and centered during a challenging time.

Reading about meditation techniques

At other times in life, you might find that you do want to try meditation itself. Some books that can be used for meditative reading contain valuable information about meditation techniques. An excellent example is the book, Wherever You Go, There You Are, by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Another superb example is a volume called Your True Home, by Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Following the instructions in such books can be a way to give meditation a try, if it’s something you’ve never done. And if you have meditated in the past, the instructions can give you fresh ideas regarding ways to meditate.

Two notable points

It’s important to make it clear that, if you read a book for inspiration, you don’t have to agree with everything the author says. You can pick out what is useful to you and leave the rest alone. You may find some sections of a book irrelevant or silly, but that doesn’t invalidate the rest of the book.

Another notable point is that meditative reading can complement other forms of meditative practice (such as traditional meditation, journaling, tai chi, yoga and meditative walking). For many of us, it can be worthwhile to try a number of different practices over time and find out what combination works best for us. Of course, what is effective for us can change over the decades. In certain phases of life, some practices may appeal to us more than others. Fortunately, meditative reading is a practice that we can try during almost any period of life.

As we deal with life’s ups and downs, let’s remember that meditative reading can be an effective way for us to calm and center ourselves. We can also keep in mind that meditative reading can be done when we’re short on time and when we’re experiencing enormous stress. Clearly, reading as meditation is a practice that is easy to try and that can yield an abundance of benefits.

-- By Mary Jablonski

See features from the April 2014 issue

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