|Gorgeous bookshelves and reading nook to inspire your
reading meditation! Source.
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?
|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:
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.
Like more of the same? Subscribe to the Tolstoy Therapy Newsletter and receive a round-up of the week’s articles every Sunday to enjoy with your coffee. Click here to subscribe.