This article first appeared on Thepositivepsychologypeople.com
I never got to read. Of course I read academic papers and the readings that are required for my degree. I went over the news and whatever analysis of it I could squeeze into my day. I skimmed through Facebook pages and other modes of virtual connection that left me none the more enlightened.
And yet, I never got to read. I mean read in the real sense of the word, where I had the luxury of contemplation, where knowledge grew through questions and not answers, where the torment of uncertainty was rewarded by the (eventual) entry into vistas likely unknown, surely undiscovered.
There is a reason I never got to read. It wasn’t the combined package of responsibilities that I tried to honor every day. It was the distractions that flooded in on me, overwhelming my cognitive quarters and leaving precious little time to even see how little of it I actually had. Between “breaking news” on TV, beeping emails, blinking texts and the constant stream of mindless monologues and trivial images, I felt I was on a dizzying roller coaster from which slumber was the only respite.
This is perhaps the reality of living in the 21st century. With all the data in the world at our fingertips, we have certainly made great advances. But somewhere along the way, we also seem to have lost touch with ourselves. I’ve always lamented that loss and tried to restore the inward connection by having a nourishing book to read by my bedside.
Despite that, I never got to read. The book sat on my bedside table and taunted me every night as I succumbed to fatigue and promised (yet again) to begin my reading regimen the following day – that never arrived. I even carried it with me on family vacations, hoping to revel in its pages as the kids swam in the warm waters of the seas or went hiking in the brisk morning air. Sadly, it never made its way out of my luggage, as I dressed and fed my kids, solved their petty problems and bandaged their psychological wounds.
An Opportunity to Refocus
And then it happened. Two weeks ago, I finally got to read. The children returned to school for a new academic year and I stayed back from work for an additional 9 days. Not to get my things in order or get ahead in my work. Thoreau’s words that “the man whose horse trots a mile in a minute does not carry the most important messages” had stayed with me. I took 9 days to revel in the quiet whispers of nature, in the stillness of watching the world go by and yes, in becoming captive to the beauty of a wholesome book.
Ah the joys of reading! For in the quiet of the uninterrupted intimacy with my own mind, I rediscovered the wonders of the world that we rarely visit – the world within us. And in the pages of another life’s inward journey, I forgot the minutiae of my current reality and began to see my world through the largest possible lens.
Our lives of constant stimulation feed off the sympathetic nervous system that drives us to do more. But sometimes we need to take a different route. One that takes us back to who we really are and ignites the quieter parasympathetic nervous system that restores our soul. The stillness of reading allows us to step away from the world so that we begin to see our place in it and contemplate on what we should be doing for it. For therein lies our spiritual survival.
Thomas Merton’s was right when he said “Man was made for the highest activity, which is in fact, his rest”. In today’s world, this holds an urgency way beyond that of the speed of technology.