Friday, 13 December 2013

Books Can Heal: Reading Meditation and Bibliotherapy


Beautiful reading nook and bookshelf for relaxation
Gorgeous bookshelves and reading nook to inspire your
reading meditation! Source.
This is a guest post by Kathleen Miller at Project Reinvention. Kathleen is a brilliant coach and blogger (with many beliefs and thoughts similar to my own), so do check out her blog if you haven't already!

I have been a long-time reader of Lucy’s blog and am delighted to have the opportunity to write a guest post. An avid reader since childhood, my relationship to books has been long and personal. In 2012, I earned my Ph.D. in English literature, studying reader’s response to genres as diverse as the Gothic and the romance. Now, I am a life coach who uses bibliocoaching—combining the tools of coaching with reading practice—to guide my clients through career decisions, relationship difficulties, and chronic health problems.

Like Lucy, I have found comfort and a sense of common humanity while reading through illness. My own struggles with chronic illness have manifested in many forms—interstitial cystitis, skin rashes, and chronic pain (to name a few). My physical illnesses have been mind-body syndromes--manifestations of my stress, anxiety, and unaddressed “negative” feelings. When dealing with my chronic physical illnesses, I’ve used bibliotherapy to help work through issues I was having at the time.

And while using bibliotherapy to reflect on, and engage with, a story on the content level has been immensely helpful in managing my pain, I’ve also found my pain responds well to mindfulness practices such as meditation. Meditation stills my mind, roots me in my body, and lets me experience the present moment through my senses. Noticing how much better I felt when doing the two—reading and dropping into stillness—I began to wonder how does one combine reading practice with meditation? What might be the benefits? Although we often think of reading as a form of escape, can it be a form of presence?

Why meditate? 

According to an article in Psychology Today on the “Benefits of Meditation,” “Neuroscientists have found that meditators shift their brain activity to different areas of the cortex - brain waves in the stress-prone right frontal cortex move to the calmer left frontal cortex. This mental shift decreases the negative effects of stress, mild depression and anxiety. There is also less activity in the amygdala, where the brain processes fear.” In other words, people who meditate manipulate their brain activity so they respond to stressors in happier, calmer ways. For people coping with illnesses such as anxiety, depression, chronic pain, or PTSD, stress management can be a key way to increase a sense of overall well-being.

Lovely old and pretty books
Beautifully bibliotherapeutic old books. Source.

To begin shifting your brain waves towards less stressful, circular, or catastrophic thoughts, I find this quick and easy reading meditation effectively roots me in the current moment:

Reading Meditation

Get in a comfortable reading position. You may be supine in your bed propped up with pillows. Or maybe you’re curled into a ball deep in the couch cushions. Perhaps you’re sitting outside under a tree running your hand through the grass blades. Wherever you wind up, take a moment to notice how your body feels. Can you feel the support of the cushion against your legs? The softness of your blankets on your face? The firmness of the earth on your toosh? Scrunch your toes or hands, holding them scrunched for a few seconds, then releasing them. Notice the energy coursing through your body, the sensations as you tense and relax various muscles.

Slowly take your book in hand. Touch the book’s cover. Pay attention to how the cover feels, as you run your hand slowly back and forth. Is it cold? Hot? Smooth? Rough? Covered in icky library plastic?

Open the book and notice how your hand feels touching the pages. Are the pages rough? Smooth? Made out of delicious silky soft, creamy paper? Place all your attention on the sensation of touching the page. I like to rub a page between my thumb and forefinger, but you can do as you wish. Your mind will want to chime in. Maybe it’ll remind you to pick up the dry cleaning. Or it might say that this whole reading meditation is silly and you have more important things to be doing. Thank your mind and tell it to “rest,” to be “silent,” to “hush.” You didn’t invite your mind to this reading party. Once your mind is stilled, bring your attention back to your body.

Now, notice your breathing. Pay attention as your stomach expands with air. Breathe, letting your belly grow round and full. Exhale. Regulate your breathing, making your inhalation and exhalation the same length. Hold the book up to your nose. Notice the scent of the pages. For allergy sufferers like me, you might want to consider using this method only when handling new books. The manky brown tome from the used bookstore might have you rushing for the tissue box and the asthma inhaler, rather than shifting you to a blissed out Zen state.

Repeat stroking the pages, breathing in the smell of the book, and relaxing your breathing. You’ll notice a feeling of peace. A feeling of relaxation. You will be reconnected to your body. Reconnected to this moment.

Kathleen Miller


(Lucy) Does reading have a meditative effect on you? I'm keen to explore the concept further myself, so look out for my upcoming experiments with reading meditation! Also coming up: a big thank you message, alongside reviews of the wonderful Where'd You Go, Bernadette and The Shock of The Fall.



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8 comments:

Brian Joseph said...

Great post!


Though I have never formally meditated, informally I seem to engage in many of these things that folks describe as light meditation. What a great idea it is to tie this to books and reading!

The variety of aromas exuded by books is indeed surprising!

lorebrarian said...

interesting approach to bibliotherapy.
thanks,
lorebrarian
http://readersanonymous.blogspot.com

tolstoytherapy said...

I'm so glad you enjoyed Kathleen's post too, Brian! It's certainly a great concept to consider further in our everyday reading. It's hard to beat the smell of books!

tolstoytherapy said...

I'm glad you enjoyed reading the post too, lorebrarian! Bibliotherapy is such an exciting concept to explore.


Lucy

Kathleen said...

Brian, I find it useful to meditate in non-traditional ways, too. Tying mindfulness to books helped make it less intimidating for me.

An1081 said...

Interesting. I've experimented a bit with mindfulness and meditation, but never thought about doing that with books. I'll give it a try. Sounds like a fun way to relax. I'll also try this when I have trouble concentrating on my book because my thoughts keep drifting off.

marckhurley said...

As a volunteer for the Distant Healing Network, I often suggest easy exercises or simple healing meditations that can bring a full and lasting healing. Most often we have to repeat the meditations and the healing is gradual - but not always. Sometimes it is immediate. Shim Sung

tolstoytherapy said...

Thank you, An! I agree - it definitely sounds like the perfect way to relax, and I must do it more, particularly when my attention is drifting! I hope you're well and have had a great Easter.