The unappreciated but important act of #mindful reading
I was born in Kenya and we didn’t have a TV or computers or any other technical distractions. So my mum taught me to read at the age of 3, and it is one of the greatest gifts I’ve been given.
I learnt to lose myself in books. I learnt to speed-read. I learnt to read selectively for academic study. But the most difficult form of reading, and perhaps the most important, is to learn how to read mindfully.
Mindful reading is different. One way I learnt this, and am still learning was through the slow prayerful reading of sacred text that is lectio divina. This slow form of reading is repetitive, lovingly repetitive. It is meditative and contemplative.
I also learnt a lot about reading mindfully, and was inspired to read in this way by Miriam Darlington’s lyrical Otter Country. We can read other texts that inspire mindful reading; it doesn’t have to be Scripture.
In fact I take Otter Country with me wherever I do a retreat or listening day or seminar, and I read sections to illustrate mindful reading, and mindful attentiveness through observing the natural world.
One of the main practices of A Book of Sparks: A Study in Christian MindFullness is mindful reading. On page 25 I wrote:
‘As we read each day, I would encourage you to read slowly, and mindFully; the very process of this type of reading can bring us into a place of awareness and attentiveness…’
This is not as easy as it sounds. This is mainly because we are trained to read in another way. I came across this quote about mindful or contemplative reading which explains this beautifully:
‘Finally the weekly reading assignments are subverted through the introduction of a contemplative reading practice. Rather than aggressively reading to have knowledge and gain ‘truth,’ participants learn a method which is a being with, not a doing of the text – an embodied, not a cognitive encounter.’
We are so used to aggressively reading as an act of doing of or to the text, we do not know how to be with the text. Especially text that does not immediately surrender its meaning.
Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) talks about learning to shift from the doing mode of mind to the being mode of mind. We are culturally conditioned in particular to inhabit the doing mode of mind. Our aggressive reading of texts reflects this. The shift to being happens through mindful awareness practices, meditative practices. One such practice, I believe, is mindful reading.
 Donald McCown, Diane Reibel & Marc S. Micozzi, Teaching Mindfulness (Springer, 2011), p. 160.