Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Does "Reading" Really Mean?

The name of this blog is "Read, Relax, Recognize," and as I begin the series of posts that will follow, it will be helpful to look at each of those three terms to see what they really mean.
For instance, what does the word "read" actually mean? The first and most obvious assumption is that it is what we do with the printed word. Most of us read every day, whether it is email, web articles, books, instructions on food packaging, advertising and countless other things. It seems so fundamental and natural for us to be able to look at a page and know what is being communicated.
A key element that might not be so obvious is the fact that the words are actually a sort of code which we have the ability to discern. We did not have that coding ability when we were small children, and if the words are in an unfamiliar foreign language, we won't be able to get the meaning. One could say that the key element in the interaction with words is not merely seeing them or hearing them, but being able to truly decode them.
A lack of understanding might come not only from not being able to decode and understand the language, but from not WANTING to understand. A racist who reads information that contradicts his prejudices will certainly understand the words, but he simply will not be able to process and assimilate the meaning because of his resistance to what the words point to.
Lack of understanding can also occur because of lack of attention. If we are not alert or are disinterested in what is being communicated, then communication and understanding will not take place.
Reading is not limited to man-made language. A person who is very familiar with the natural surroundings can read the natural signs: how will the weather change, when is it the right time to plant a crop, is this a place animals would come to feed, is this a plant that can be used as a medicine, and so on. It is an art that has almost totally disappeared in the modern world, but it is nonetheless a form of reading.

Now I come to the most significant interpretation of the word "reading." We are living a life filled with a profusion of experiences that are difficult to understand. A loved one dies, we get a severe illness, nations go to war, children starve....One day we are hopeful that we can find a solution, but the next day we fully despair. We seem to be under assault by things we cannot understand and for which we have no solution. We may end up just blocking it out in boredom, apathy, distraction and medication, but the flow of life is unrelenting.
Am I now going to give you a gimmicky solution to this age-old dilemma? No, thankfully not! But what I will say is that the response to this challenge has a lot to do with reading. Can we understand what the flow of life is bringing us if we are totally distracted by our thoughts and emotions about the experiences? Can we be discerning and clear if our minds are totally unclear? That is, can we "read" our experience fully if we are confused about the language?
Well, okay, fine, but how do we have a clear view; how do we find peace when our minds are constantly raging? In a very simple way, we take a stand, we make a choice....we refuse to be distracted. We do that in each moment of our experience, and we keep coming back to that place of non-distraction and rest over and over and over again, rather than being carried along by the distraction. We remain clear, unmoved, alert and aware in each moment, regardless of what storms swirl around us.
We can do this for short moments, over and over again, and like a baby taking little steps, falling and getting up to take more baby steps, we become confident in our capacity to remain alert and clear in each moment.
So, dear friends, the reading that we are doing in this case is the utmost reading we can do: skillfully discerning what is important and what is not....reading the signs, as it were. When we see that our thoughts and emotions don't need to control us, we can read without distraction. And it begins with short moments, many times, until it becomes spontaneous.

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