Being mindful while reading

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.

Being mindful while reading

Postby Rosemary_Sage » Fri Jan 25, 2013 6:05 pm

I'm an avid reader but find it difficult to stay present while doing so. Most other activities (except sleeping) I
can maintain awareness from moment to moment. Does anyone else have this problem? I can be so absorbed
in trying to understand a book that it breaks my ability to be mindful. For example 30 minutes can go by
without noticing what I'm engaged in. When I try to be more aware I can't make sense of what I'm reading or
at least I have to slow down considerably. Any guidance here?
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Re: Being mindful while reading

Postby lobster » Sun Jan 27, 2013 12:49 am

Read less. Read simpler texts. Read in shorter bursts. :twothumbsup:
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Re: Being mindful while reading

Postby lowlydog » Sun Jan 27, 2013 1:08 am

The mind is used to flitting off like this, it is normal. When you notice it has lost its awareness on the desired object, just keep bringing it back. With this practice you will strengthen your concentration.
The half hour time frame will gradually decrease with practice.
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Re: Being mindful while reading

Postby greentara » Sun Jan 27, 2013 1:12 am

Perhaps you're reading a book that doesn't interest you or you've got some niggling problem brewing that prevents you from concentrating.
The truth is if your' reading a really good book or watching an interesting movie you are absorbed in that. You're not even aware of noises that are quite close to you. Pity we can't have the same concentration when we meditate.
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Re: Being mindful while reading

Postby rachmiel » Sun Jan 27, 2013 2:21 am

I think there are times when the kind of awareness you're talking about is appropriate, and times where it's inappropriate. This is from Krishnamurti:

Don't be aware all the time! Just be aware in little bits. Please, there is no being aware all the time, that is a dreadful idea!

It is a nightmare, this terrible desire for continuity. Just be aware for one minute, for one second, and in that one second of awareness you can see the whole universe. That is not a poetic phrase. We see things in a flash, in a single moment, but having seen something, we want to capture, to hold it, give it continuity. That is not being aware at all. When you say, 'I must be aware all the time', you have made a problem of it, and then you should really find out why you want to be aware all the time. See the greed it implies, the desire to acquire. And to say, 'Well, I am aware all the time', means nothing.
No one really knows anything. (I think.)
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Re: Being mindful while reading

Postby wisdom » Sun Jan 27, 2013 3:56 am

Rosemary_Sage wrote:I'm an avid reader but find it difficult to stay present while doing so. Most other activities (except sleeping) I
can maintain awareness from moment to moment. Does anyone else have this problem? I can be so absorbed
in trying to understand a book that it breaks my ability to be mindful. For example 30 minutes can go by
without noticing what I'm engaged in. When I try to be more aware I can't make sense of what I'm reading or
at least I have to slow down considerably. Any guidance here?


Theres nothing wrong with periods of contemplation and study. Its good for a number of reasons. The important thing is to not get attached to study and contemplation that we forget that the goal is awareness and not endless contemplation of subjects. We should also realize that every day and every situation is different in terms of our ability to maintain awareness. Some days will be foggy all day, the only thing we can do is to accept it and be as mindful as possible without any attachment to our relative conditions. Other days will be crystal clear, and we should have no attachment to that as well. Some situations we will maintain awareness throughout with ease, others will instantly destroy our awareness and bring up violent thoughts or emotions. If you are trying to practice from the point of view of Mahamudra or the Great Perfection, these situations are all OK and nothing to worry about. We just keep doing our best without attachment to anything.

The main thing is non attachment. Your true nature doesn't change because you spend some time studying. If this still seems odd to you, think of study as being for the benefit of all sentient beings. The more you know, the more empowered you are to be of benefit. This is true of every kind of knowledge, not just Dharma. Its good to know different things because you can relate to many different people, so you can potentially be of benefit to many more people since they are going to accept you more freely if you share things in common or can relate to them through your knowledge, such as talking to a car enthusiast about cars, or an actor about theater.

Study also helps us understand where we are and what we do and don't know. Some things will make perfect sense, others will not. When it doesn't make sense, we know what we need to contemplate and what we should ask questions about. When it does make sense, we can test our knowledge by also asking questions to see how much our understanding corroborates with Dharma. What we don't want is a situation where we know nothing, are doing everything wrong, and think its all OK. Study is an important support in my opinion.
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Re: Being mindful while reading

Postby Punya » Sun Jan 27, 2013 9:41 pm

What a great post Wisdom! Very helpful to me and hopefully to Rosemary as well.
Unless the inner forces of negative emotions are conquered
Strife with outer enemies will never end.
~Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
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Re: Being mindful while reading

Postby randomseb » Sat Feb 02, 2013 8:59 am

Rosemary_Sage wrote:I'm an avid reader but find it difficult to stay present while doing so. Most other activities (except sleeping) I
can maintain awareness from moment to moment. Does anyone else have this problem? I can be so absorbed
in trying to understand a book that it breaks my ability to be mindful. For example 30 minutes can go by
without noticing what I'm engaged in. When I try to be more aware I can't make sense of what I'm reading or
at least I have to slow down considerably. Any guidance here?


I have noticed this effect as well when I read a good novel or book, everything but the story fades away. So I figure maybe if I can get in that state, and then drop the story too, everything would be the deep void, in perhaps the same way some meditation texts say something like that happening for when you get to a point where you are "only abiding in abiding", and then dropping that abiding.

I did find that sometimes I could replicate this effect with just a string of thoughts, something silly like thinking "this is a thought and this is all I am focusing on" over and over to get into what seems like a single pointed state, that is to say, there is only that thought object in my awareness. I speculate that this is perhaps the underlying purpose of meditation chants and mantras and such. I also speculate that this is the "deep pit" voidness that the ancients warned not to think is the end goal, perhaps more of just a step along the way.

I am speculating, though.
Disclaimer: If I have posted about something, then I obviously have no idea what I am talking about!
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