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Reading as an Intentional Practice

How do you read? Do you sit still and sink into the material, like lowering yourself into a deliciously hot bath? Or do you skim, going way too fast, greedy for the gist, oblivious to gift of context and detail?

I find so much of my reading is incredibly selfish. There’s a kind of “do me” attitude I’m not proud of. What will this do for me? What can I take from it into a conversation or something I’m writing that will make me seem like I’ve really thought about it?

It’s rarely that sacred exchange of my attention for your words. Rarely is it me stepping onto the ship of whatever you’re telling me, and experiencing the ocean of it while the shore of my laundry-laden life recedes.

Since I’ve become aware of this attitude, my little inner guru has given me a teaching: Give ten minutes of every day to reading as a spiritual practice. Put in place the following parameters:

Be intentional. Give some thought to what you’re going to read. Don’t just read to distract yourself or pass the time. I don’t care if you’ve chosen the National Enquirer, just make sure you’ve decided to read it on purpose and for real real. Ask your mind what it wants from language right now? Cookbook recipes? Newspaper article? Novel? Poem? Tabloid? Sacred texts? Whatever you’re drawn to reading, be intentional with what you choose.

Get comfortable. This is another area where intention comes into play. Decide where and how you’re going to sit. Make sure you’re comfortable. Do you feel better at the couch table, sitting on a good chair? Or would you rather read on the couch with your favorite pillow supporting your back? Think about it. Give your whole body to this little ten-minute vacation into someone else’s world.

Set your timer. Set it for ten minutes. It doesn’t matter, really, if you go over — but it does matter that you reach the ten-minute mark. This is to give yourself enough time to notice how you read. If you dive right in and lose yourself in the piece, then awesome! If you find yourself fidgeting, or skipping around, maybe peeking at the end or whatever, notice that. Take a breath and invite yourself to settle down a little. (Sometimes reading out loud helps me focus.)

Then READ. Go on the ride. Hold hands with the one in you that’s learning something new. This is a precious moment. The world is telling itself to you. Are youfrom the listening? Are you on the ship, or did you wave goodbye to it from the shore, waiting for the timer to ding? Pay attention.

Tending to the quality of our reading is just one of the many gateways into this Right Now thing. This moment. The one where Alice has taken a sip and nothing is its right size. The one where Harry Potter realizes the Patronus heride the thought was his father was actually himself. The one where we ride the train with Gandhi as a young man, or where we learn about the structure of the shoulder girdle, or where we’re told who really killed Laci Peterson.

Or it’s this one. The moment where you are letting my words bear you away from your laundry and into the deep waters of a language that connects us and makes us one.

Today, I bow to my eyes, my brain, to language itself. To my parents and all our people who taught me English, my nanny who taught me French, and my friends much later in Tuscany who taught me Italian. To all my teachers who taught me not only the shapes of letters and how to sound out the words but the body parts of a sentence, the anatomy of a paragraph, the nervous system of a story.

To anyone who said, “Read this,” and it was a great book.

To authors and publishers and books and bookstores, and, and kindle, and all its brothers and sisters in the digital world.

Scripts, articles, exposés, dissertations, and declarations of independence. Footnotes. Sidebars.

Scribbles in my journal.

Let’s bring a little reverence to our reading life, break out the anchor and set sail on the uncharted waters of all the stories that have made their way into our hands.


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