I now read much more slowly and deliberately
As I’ve now spent months reading The Bhagavad Gita and over a month reading the Bible, my first reflection centers on my reading habits. My reading has slowed down a lot.
The reading plans I’m following take a snail’s pace. In the case of the Bible, the plan has me reading two to four chapters, or two to three pages, per day. In The Gita, the idea is to read one verse and Eknath Easwaran’s commentary on that single verse per day.
That effect seems obvious. Beyond the logistics of the plans themselves, the books call for slow, careful readings. I suppose you could speed read through the Bible, but you’d miss most of the force and meaning. Same with The Gita. Reading them quickly would miss the point. It’d be like watching “Lawrence of Arabia” or “The Godfather” on double speed. On Tyler Cowen’s podcast, famed music producer Rick Rubin noted the importance of pauses, space and silence in music. You don’t shorten or eliminate the space and still get Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Can you properly read the Bible, The Gita, The Talmud, War and Peace, Little Dorrit, The Republic, or any other profound work without deliberation and a certain slow pace?
The point is to savor the text – every word. To ponder it and even in incomplete ways, try to penetrate into its mysteries. To use the words to reflect upon my life. To allow for the mental and emotional struggle, the sadness, the worry, the joy and the healing. That savoring takes time. Perhaps a lifetime.
I expected that reading The Gita and the Bible would go slowly. Again, that’s the plan. What has surprised me is how that pace has carried over into all my other reading.
I began reading T.H. White’s rendering of the Arthurian legend, The Once and Future King, before I began reading the Bible. But once I began the Bible, my pace slowed dramatically. Before, I would read 30 to 50 pages per day. Now, I am reading three to fifteen. I welcome this new pace. I’m savoring White’s storytelling, his exact word choice, his sarcasm, his deep humanity much more. The tension has come alive much more forcefully than earlier.
Same with reading Zena Hitz’s new book, A Philosopher Looks at The Religious Life. I read and re-read her first book, Lost in Thought, in a few days. The second book – I might read five or ten pages per day. Yet again, I am savoring the book. I’m giving the words the care and effort they deserve to truly understand Hitz’s argument. I’m taking time to use her words to ask questions of my life.
This new pace is a huge change in my life. Ever since I was a boy, I flew through books. Never mind that I didn’t quite follow the dialogue. Never mind I missed (only a few, only unimportant) details. I gotta get through this book.
It doesn’t have the magic.
On to the next one.
Impatience. It doesn’t have the one, single, unifying, clarifying, stupefying, stunning secret to life either.
This next book has the secret. The magic.
I gotta get to that one.
The next one has the magic. It’ll have the magic.
The next one will have all the magic.
I’m nearly 48 years old. Let’s say I really began reading when I was 5 years old. So – 43 years of reading habits have been transformed – almost reversed – in a few weeks.
Maybe I’ve finally arrived at the books that do contain the magic. Maybe the first evidence of the magic is the change they’ve wrought in one of my favorite life joys – my reading.
Images created by Midjourney.