How to Be Mindful While Reading

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CreditSam Kalda

“Reading is so much a part of our everyday lives that we take it for granted – text messages, the banners that run across our televisions, the ads that pop up. And yet, reading can be a crucial opportunity for mindfulness — the ability to be in the present moment, aware while withholding judgment, both inside and outside of yourself. This summer, take a break from passive reading, skimming, reading-as-multitasking, and try mindful reading.” — Marcella Frydman Manoharan, co-founder of Cambridge Coaching, which specializes in academic coaching and mentoring.

Find a window of time when you can focus on your reading, rather than trying to squeeze it into a busy day or get a few pages in before bedtime.

Pick reading that will engage but not deplete you, something that requires a bit of mental energy, but doesn’t end up as another item on your growing to-do list. There’s a whole world of text out there to discover: novels, biographies, histories, but also collections of essays, science writing, poems and long-form journalism.

Consider reading in print. If much of your reading is on a screen – your phone, computer or tablet — then mindful reading from a tangible book could be a nice break from the pinging.

As you turn the pages, notice the quality of light, the color and even the smell of the ink on the page, the way that the spine of your book feels against the palms of your hands. You may find yourself more easily bored or sleepy. Take note: This is you slowing down – the point of this exercise to begin with.

Pay attention to language. Look at an individual word; look up unfamiliar words. Maybe you use a pencil to underline language that you notice, or maybe you just make a mental note. Either way, get into the details — the rhythm of a sentence, a detail that conjures a person or place. Notice as reading causes your thoughts to meander. Reading does not have to be a comprehensive or linear exercise. Your mind is not a vacuum sweeping up each word mechanically. You will invariably drift off, think of something else, imagine what you’re getting for lunch, or what you should have said to your date last night — all of this is expected.

When your mind wanders, gently usher yourself back to the text and keep going. If you’ve forgotten the last passage you read, you can always go back and read it again. Or don’t. There’s value in a bit of uncertainty, in finding peace within ambiguity.

Finally, don’t over-prepare for your reading. You don’t really need the perfect lounge chair, with light at just the right slant and a cup of tea precisely brewed. Mindful reading can provide an oasis even in more turbulent settings.

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