Bookish Mindfulness & Memories

Thursday, September 22, 2011

I've been thinking a lot about mindfulness lately. Really in the grand scheme of things, my knowledge of mindfulness is just pebbles in a valley of rocks and boulders. But the little I understand is of interest to me, especially as it pertains to slowing down the mind and body and reducing anxieties. I'm seeing various foci in terms of mindfulness but in general it's a concentrated awareness of oneself at any given moment. It's the awareness of all of your senses in that moment (what do you see? hear? feel?) and can be used as an exercise to transport yourself to a place of peace when you're feeling not so (at peace). Similar to meditation, I think, which I also would like to learn more about.

They say reading isn't necessarily a form of mindfulness, but it can be if the focus is not on content but experience. And I imagine that for bloggers and other book lovers that the experience might be more mindful. Where are you when you're reading? Are you in a cushy chair or cuddled up with pillows? Or are you outside with the sun warming your shoulders? Or maybe you're sitting in the car in a parking lot, knees bent to bring your legs up in front of you turning the driver's seat into a makeshift reading chair (as I am often wont to do in between clients' homes). What does the book feel like? A lot of books I've read lately have different types of textures on the covers. Some feel almost like a suede (ah, it's hard to describe), whereas others are more glossy. What are the pages like? Are they thick or thin? Neatly cut or deckle edged? And the smell. Most readers I know love the smell of books. Is it a new book smell or is it just a little bit musty? One of my special requests when trading books online is that books do not come from a smoking home or otherwise smell like smoke, as it can literally ruin the experience for me of reading that book (truly no offense intended to smokers!) And what about the font? Is it large or small? Is there anything special about it? Are there curlicues as decoration on the pages? Sometimes I'll notice a special design at the beginning of chapters like a shaded box over the chapter name or maybe just a pretty design at the top of that page. And how are you feeling? Are your muscles tense or do you feel relaxed, at ease? Are you breathing fully or could you maybe slow it down a little to calm yourself a little more?

Those are just some examples of being in the moment when reading.But I've also found that I am able to create specific memories from reading. Maybe not all books, but some where there has maybe been something special about that experience. And maybe this isn't considered mindfulness per se, but I think there are similarities in its astractness. You know how when a specific song comes on the radio, it can transport you to a time and place far passed? That's how I feel with some of the books I've read. For instance, I have the book Room by Emma Donaghue on my shelf. It's an ARC signed by Ms. Donaghue at BEA in May of 2010. That right there can invoke those memories. But the main memory I have is of the last morning in New York City reading that book while standing and waiting for the Subway. The experience of reading that book is forever mingled with that specific memory - a memory to which I a happy to be transported. I actually have another New York City subway book memory (from a different NYC trip this past December) and that is of reading Daniel Palmer's Delirious while standing on the subway. I love how in the city you can be surrounded by a crowd and still be all alone in your own place. More memories: I remember reading Wench while sitting in my car one evening in a church parking lot in Orlando while waiting to meet my husband for a basketball game at the nearby arena. When I think of that specific experience, I feel an incredible peace and happiness. My husband and I have partial season tickets to see our favorite NBA team and going to those games is such an (ironically) relaxing escape from the rest of the world. And I am able to specifically tie that feeling in with reading that specific book.

I have a memory of reading Vanishing Acts by Jodi Picoult not long after finishing my undergraduate degree. I specifically recall lying on the couch with my legs over the arm of the couch and feeling a wonderful freedom I hadn't felt in a long time, knowing there wasn't any homework I needed to do and that I could invest all my thought into just being in the moment. Of course, I have to wonder how much of this memory is fabricated by me or twisted in some way because according to my lists, I didn't read this book until 2006 and I graduated from college in the spring of 2005. Interesting conundrum! Maybe my memory isn't quite accurate, but hey it's a peaceful one and that works!I remember last Christmas morning choosing from my stack of new books and cracking open Zeitoun. That one was different because it was a dust-jacket-less hardcover. But there was definitely a joy and piece I felt on that day as I read. I have a couple that correlate to being away for work which would have otherwise been a frustrating experience for me (as I dislike work-related travel). I read True Colors by Kristin Hannah in my hotel room on the frequent 15 minute breaks that the training, held in the hotel, gave us. Even though I disliked being away from home, that was a peaceful experience. Or the time I had to travel to North Carolina to testify in a trial for work. I was reading Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver on my nook. While I don't have these kinds of memories for every book I've read, considering I've read over a few hundred in the past five years alone, I can come up with quite a few examples.This just goes to show that reading, especially for those who already have a love for it, can be an experience, in and of itself, separate from the emotions generated by the actual content of the book. I have to say I love that about books, especially considering that, for me, they are often an escape, a means to "take me away" from the stressors of daily life. And I haven't even mentioned the peace I feel at walking through a bookstore, preferably with a coffee drink in hand. I do that once or twice a week regardless of if I want to buy anything. The peacefulness helps keep me sane! (Kudos to anyone who can tell me what bookstore this picture is of!.. Click on the picture to enlarge.)

So what are your bookish mindfulness memories??


Sandy Nawrot said...

Oh, I do love a deckled edge! And I have so so many memories when reading and listening to audios. I can tell you exactly where I was walking when listening to certain books. Printed books the same way.

Zibilee said...

I have a lot of these book memories as well, and can remember certain places, circumstances, and even emotions that I was having while reading a specific book. It's amazing the way that reading can transport you to another level of almost heightened awareness, even while you are in the midst of perusing a favorite book. This was just a wonderful and amazing post today, Jenny.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Very neat way to think about books. I'm definitely going to try to put them into practice and be more mindful in the future!

Jennifer said...

Loved this post!

And I *think* that bookstore is The Strand, no?

Booksnyc said...

Very interesting post! Some of my book memories are intertwined with where I was when I read them. I seem to enjoy books best while on vacation - well maybe everything is better on vacation!

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