Mindfulness seems to be the new buzz word tacked on to the traditional hippie repertoire of organic food, yoga, and meditation but it has begun expanding it’s boundaries. Currently I have seen articles describing mindful busines practices, mindful eating (very different from just eating more healthily), and even mindful reading.
Most people’s first reaction to mindful reading is “How could reading not be mindful?” At first thought, it does seem a bit redundant. But the traditional manner of reading, even the more intense practices of close reading or literary analysis, are far different from mindful reading. And far, far less rewarding.
The Old School Ways of Reading
Reading at it’s bare essentials is the process of uncovering a story. To close read, you are using your knowledge of literary devices, human nature, themes, etc. to reveal a more meaningful motive behind the main plot. To analyze a book you are using the information from your close reading to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the work. Sometimes these strengths and weaknesses are in relation to a certain field of thought such as feminism, culture, or socio-economics.
Mindful Reading or Reading 2.0 as some might call it
Mindful reading is the practice of reading with intention. Reading analysis is done to develop an opinion- to judge. Reading with intention is not meant to break down a work piece by piece. Mindful readers are in the moment of what they are reading. They are completley absorbed and aware of what is happening in the story. They feel what the characters feel and see what the characters see. As they read, they experience the story more powerfully and more meaningfully than someone hovering over the page, pen in hand. And when they finish the story, they put it back together.
When an analyzer or close reader gets into a book, it is often broken into fragments. Chunks of alliteration, symbolism and evidence of socialistic undertones are pieced together in patchworks of highlighter and stitched with blue and black ink notes along the margins. Often the evidence or conclusions that the reader comes to in the end are arbitrary to any purpose the author originally had when writing that book. What did Jane Austen care of Marx, a man who was not even alive at the time of her writing?
What these readers often are guilty of is reading what they want to into these works. They put themselves, or their own ideas into the work. A student wishing to find evidence of Marxism in Jane Austen could probably do so when asked. Just the same as Satan could quote the Bible for his own intentions. This is where Mindful Reading stands out.
Mindful readers are reading the authors own words, for the authors purpose. They are absorbed in the story as the author intended. This does not mean that a mindful reader is unaware of the literary devices and the themes or philosophy behind the work. They may be acutely aware of it. The mindful reader can discover these things naturally as they are reading but it is not the primary goal to uncover and understand the purpose and effect of these devices. The primary goal of the mindful reader is to understand the author’s message as a whole.
Just as we experience life moment by moment, day by day, the mindful reader experiences the story sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter. When we reach the end of our life it is common for the elderly to look back upon their life to make sense of it all. What was the meaning of it? What was the purpose? How did these memories shape me into what I am today? This is what the mindful reader does when they reach the end of the novel. They ponder the overall meaning, the author’s intentions, and how the events of the story changed the characters or the world they lived in. The story is pieced back together to make a whole, understandable meaning.
Why does it matter?
When you are reading mindfully you are connecting with the author on a deeper level. Many of us read to know or read to judge, like the close readers or the analyzers. Some of us read just to enjoy. These are all valid and respectable reasons to read. Mindful reading does not mean to replace these purposes, but rather to enhance them when useful.
When you read to connect you experience the actions of the characters in a manner that makes you feel as though you actually went on that adventure, or made that gut wrenching choice. You experience a thousand lives and gain the wisdom of a thousand minds.
When you read to connect you are essentially having a long conversation with the author.The author doesn’t simply tell you what they mean, they show you. They let you experience it in a way that no other art is capable of. These long heart felt conversations are like the late night talks with a loved one. These are the times when you get to know someone more intimately than ever before.
What was the last book you got to know as intimately as a lover?
For me it was Elantris by Brandon Sanderson. I stayed up late, entranced in the magic of it. I paused to reread my favorite passages just for the enjoyment of the words. I considered the emotions of the characters and how I would have reacted instead. I got to know the characters. I experienced a way of life I can never experience in the real world. I found ways of seeing life that resonated with my own views of faith and humanity. Most of all, I feel that I made a connection with the true message of the story.
Next time you grab a new book grab a cup of coffee, wrap up in a blanket, and get intimate.