Monday, January 4, 2010

Reading is easy. It's living that's sometimes hard.

T used to tease me about reading when I could be experiencing. We'd be driving through beautiful countryside on vacation, and I'd have my nose buried in the guidebook. Or I'd be nursing B and reading a book on breast-feeding. I understood what he was trying to convey, but it never really sunk in. I mean, you gotta know where the best restaurants are, right? And how to do side-lying nursing.

Somehow today I was thinking about the reading I've been doing on meditation, and how little I actually do it, and it struck me that while I completely buy into the immense benefits of meditation, I haven't make it a priority to have a daily practice. And it reminds me of the gardening reading I did for quite a while. I know a lot about plants and gardening in theory, but I don't go out and actually get dirt under my fingernails very often. I'm an armchair gardener. And while I understood the theory, I never did get the hang of side-lying nursing.

I think there are two parts to my bias for reading instead of living. One, I like being prepared, in control. Reading about something, for example a travel destination or a how-to manual, provides context and a framework in which to operate, so I'm not flying blind. I know what to expect, what's normal, and how to handle surprises and problems. And two, it's a whole lot safer and/or easier to get vicarious thrills from a book than going out and doing the real thing. I can talk about how important it is to be careful of the root ball when planting bougainvillea, but I'll ask the yard crew to plant it for me. But reading can distance you from living, pulling you away from direct experience and into your head. I used to read for escape as a kid, when my parents would fight with each other and my older brother. I still read a lot, substituting a book for the TV as my method of being a couch potato. It's a pretty harmless coping mechanism, far better than alcohol or drugs or bad behavior.

But in 2010 I would like to tip the balance a little more toward living. Not that I won't still read a whole lot, especially for the illusion of control. But I'll also make sure to stop, take my head out of the book occasionally, and be in the moment. Enjoy the sun coming in the family room window in the morning and the fire murmuring in the grate in the evening. Be mindful of the moment I'm living in, because there is no other.

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