By Leo Babauta
There is something lovely and luxurious about giving ourselves the space to read a book. It’s a time we set aside for ourselves, for learning or pure enjoyment, for solitude and silence, to fully be with a text, to fully immerse ourselves into the world of the book.
This is such a rare joy these days, because we are so caught up in distractions and busyness, and if we want to partake in the joy of reading, we have to overcome such urges as:
- The urge to put off the reading because you’re busy or you want to watch just one more video or you don’t feel like it.
- Once you get into the reading zone, there are urges to switch to something else “real quick” as you look something up or send a quick email or check your messages “just in case” you got an important message.
Notice that there is some truth to these kinds of urges: you are busy, you might get an important message, and it is a good thing to take care of email and look things up. But also notice that they are really just excuses to put off the reading or to switch to something else.
They aren’t real needs, in the vast majority of cases. They are rationalizations to put off something or switch from full focus … and isn’t this what we deal with in all areas of our lives? Aren’t these typical patterns for all habits we’re trying to create, for all difficult tasks we set before ourselves, for our meaningful work we want to do in the world?
So what can we do to deal with these urges?
In this approach, the reading session becomes a practice session for dealing with urges that might come up in all areas of our lives. Which is pretty awesome, because we get some great practice in and we get the joy of reading!
So here’s how I would suggest dealing with the urges:
- Have some way to notice that they’re coming up. For example, if your reminder goes off to do your reading session, commit to someone else to notice what urges come up at that time to put off the reading. If you’re in your reading session and you have an urge to switch to something else, for whatever reason, commit to just noticing the urge instead of actually switching. Be with the urge instead of following it and acting on it. By having this “practice container” of your reading session, you’ll be able to see if you have an urge to do anything other than read.
- Allow yourself to turn toward the urges and feel them. If you see the urge, pause for a moment and just turn toward the urge. That means you allow the gaze of your attention to move to that part of your body that feels the actual sensation of the urge. It’s like an itch â€” the itch is a sensation somewhere in your body that makes you want to scratch. The urge is the same way â€” it’s a physical sensation somewhere in your body that makes you want to go do something else. Notice where that is. What does it feel like? Let yourself fully feel it, as you would fully feel an itch if you didn’t scratch it but just gave it your attention.
- Notice that they’re not solid. An urge is a physical sensation, and it’s this idea in your mind (to go do something else, because it seems attractive). But it’s not solid, like your foot, but rather just a cloud-like phenomenon that passes through your mind and body like a mist. It can feel very real, because we solidify it into a truth, a need … but in fact it’s just something that passes, like a breath that comes in and out of our body. If we don’t attach to it, it stays cloud-like, and will just float away.
- Make a note, and put them aside. If the urge is to do something important (not to go watch a Youtube video) and you really should do it sometime today, have a little notebook or piece of paper nearby that you can jot a reminder for that task. Want to look something up? Put it on the paper. Want to send someone a message? Put that on the paper. Want to check on something? Write it down, you can do it in a little bit. With this note written, you have kind of scratched the itch, and you can put the urge aside for a little longer while you read. You’ll say yes to it later, but just not this second.
- Turn toward the reading, and give it your fullest yes. With that done, you can turn to the reading, and give it a resounding yes. You can be fully with it, and enjoy the pleasures of the book. You can relax into the activity, letting everything else go and falling in love with the simple act of reading in this moment.
Please practice this for the rest of this month!