Contemplative Reading – How to Access Your Full Heart-Mind

Okay, so there is reading and then there is contemplative reading.

See, I’ve always been a bit of an information hound. I wanted all the answers to all my questions NOW. You’d think I’d have learned how to speed read.

Of course, the reality is just reading something isn’t the same thing as processing it through to your heart-mind. Comprehending or remembering details isn’t the same as letting wisdom live inside and through you. It’s a good start, but not the same.  

I’m a lover of poetry, haiku, koans, thesaurus’ and dictionaries. One word can unlock a universe. A  syllable can take me to higher realms of consciousness.

I remember the first time I read this one section in a book by Natalie Goldberg. She wrote about radishes and asked me to do the same. I cried and cried because the word unhinged something inside of me on a root level. Deep guttural awakening. It brought me into a mountain of memory, and as I pondered “radish,” this whoosh of earthiness passed through me. Radish. Garden. Grandma. Dad. Earth. Short Minnesota summer. Salt. A plate. Love beyond words. Gratitude for what was, what carries through.

Another writer who had this effect on me is Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in his book, Hymn of the Universe. He used so many words, all the words, in an ecstatic poetic trance writing and I fell for it one beat at a time. His words are so rich and effusive. They kept coming in this river of meaning, coming at me so fast I had to stop trying to take in all the meaning and float in it.

Floating in a word or phrase is exactly what contemplative reading is.

Forget knowing everything with your head. Just put that notion away. Real knowing is being saturated through and through. And to do that, you have to sit in the words. A big word puddle and your only job is to sit in the puddle and look and feel and make friends with the puddle.

So, to do a contemplative reading, find a book that might be meaningful to you. Poetry, song lyrics, scriptures and dharmic writing from all religions work wonders. A short sentiment to stew yourself in.

  1. Pick out a short passage from one word to one paragraph or stanza.
  2. Read the words.
  3. Sit with the words. Simply notice whatever comes up for you. Don’t get bogged down in thought or trying to solve anything. Just notice and breathe. The allow some space, a few breaths in and out.
  4. When you are ready, read the words again.
  5. Reflect on the texture or aural sensations of the words, the way you would instrumental music. or the way you take in a piece of art. Did you experience any responses in your body?
  6. Close your eyes. Notice any differences. Open your eyes.
  7. Read the words again.
  8. What stands out for you? What message is coming through the words? Don’t intellectualize this. Maybe it’s a sign, a symbol, or a question for you to keep in your heart-mind today.
  9. Allow time to let the reading settle and fall away. Rest your hands in your lap or over your heart. Take in a few normal breaths.

That’s it. Run through a reading two or three times.

Contemplation’s beauty is that it continues to unfold.

This is what I have for you today. I hope it helps you get to your meditative, contemplative, reflective core and that you are able to access the joyful and wide-open space that is accessible to all of us if we are willing to let go of certainty.

Until next time,