Reading as meditation

Woman Reading ~ by Aaron Shikler

~ Imagine your mind as a ship. It sails upon the sea of experience, held together with the masts of our consciousness. We go where the wind takes us. The wind being our thoughts, moods, emotional states. Who or what dictates which way the wind blows? Sometimes us, sometimes others. Sometimes it is nothing at all. Sometimes it is everything in our lives at once and is it just too much. The wind may shift direction so fast or blow so hard that we lose all control of our little ship. Sooner or later, everyone finds themselves lost in the sea of an out of control mind. We find our way back with experiences that draw us onto shore, or to calmer waters. One of these experiences, since time immemorial, is the act of reading.

Reading can be compared to meditation: They both bring oneself into oneself. Essential to the experience is a kind of solitude, and a mind locked into engagement with its thoughts in a profound way. They are each employed for betterment. For escape, for enlightenment, either way. At its best, it is summoned as an end in of itself, and not as a means. Both serve to tranquilize the mind like nothing else. From mundanity or from stress does one lead on into a brand new experience, cleansed of the past, but just for the moment.

I think reading and meditation can both be a form of mental alchemy. Thoughts are transmuted from out of either conscious gathering or within our personal unconscious, and are converted into something else entirely. Sentences become stories; ten minutes alone becomes an arduous bout in an arena with ten thousand unseen and unnameable foes. Victory comes with an emotional change, a lesson learned, a slight uptick in your self-awareness.

Imagine a mantra as a clarion call to read: Your mind is a ship, words are your sails.

Maybe even add, “…And your heart is the compass.” Something like that.

What better way to find the right winds for your sails — words for your heart — than within the pages of a book?

A writer named George Saunders put the writing process and reading experience together in a poetic and powerful way:

But, honestly, this early in the game, with the story only just finished via our editing process, I’m not exactly sure what it means. I’ve been (we’ve been) working on how it should proceed. That, to me, is the wonderful thing about fiction: the meaning of a story is contained in the way it unscrolls, in the experience the reader has, phrase by phrase. Everything else — the analysis we tend to feel the need to do — is reductive (fun, but reductive). The reading experience, when you think about it, is so complex and lovely and hard to describe: ideas come up and are complicated and refined by the next beat; moral notions arise and are challenged; the language surprises; parallel images from our own life are continually invoked; questions that, in our everyday mode, we’d be more simply opinionated about are endorsed and negated and complicated. All this happens at once, and in a granulated way that’s impossible to describe. I think it’s important to be respectful of how mysterious the whole deal is: a person being moved by a story another person made up. It’s weird but it happens and it can really change people’s lives. I think fiction at its best can serve as a moment of induced bafflement that calls into question our usual relation to things and reminds us that our minds, as nice as they are, aren’t necessarily up to the task of living, and shouldn’t get cocky.

~ George Saunders (https://www.newyorker.com/books/this-week-in-fiction/george-saunders-08-19-19)

Another writer, Philip Roth, on writing ~

The idea is to perceive your invention as a reality that can be understood as a dream.

The writer must craft their dream so that the reader can understand it and live within it for a spell. A good story transports. Reading embodies a new kind of dream for our minds, where we are simultaneously here and there, in the now of a strange and impossible dream progressing. In turn, it becomes free mindfulness. There is nothing else but the dream you are co-authoring as you read. As one is taken into the mind and place of the writings, one is moved, in ways that cannot be anticipated, perhaps never to be the same again. Liberated from their past and uncaring of the future, if only for the moment, the reader can reside in the eternal now that the veteran meditator forever seeks to his own unavailing failings.

So I say pick up a book and sail the high seas, your ending venture unknown and irrelevant. Get lost in the right seas, sink into the abyss, and resurface changed and reborn, drawing up new storms and gales unto moving your self. Read, dream, write. Repeat.

Remember: Your mind is a ship, words are your sails. Your heart is the compass. You are the captain.

James C. Christensen - Place of Her Own, A
A Place of Her Own ~ by James C. Christensen