Recently on a long drive on surface streets I noticed that I was looking at things on the sides instead of letting them float by. I started noting what was happening. I was driving 35mph on a major street, catching a sign or shop and turning my head 90 degrees to see it. I never did that before, not as a consistent practice. I realized that it was mimicking exactly what happens on Huffpo or Buzzfeed or most information sites.
The street had become the middle column and the storefronts became the sidebars demanding my attention and demanding that I release my focus on what lies ahead. Reading a long piece on a site became a game of ping pong – eyes pulled to the right and my will to read the article were in opposition. It is not just a “look over here" v. “look over here.” It is stop concentrating on the middle. Stop looking for continuity. Stop forming intelligent inquiry about the essay. I needed horse blinders just to follow the writing and, now, to drive on a busy street.
Somewhere between embedded cookie-driven ads in the facebook newsfeed and flashing animations on news sites, I had lost my natural analytical reading eye-scroll. Maybe I would not have even noticed but I wanted to read in full, for content, beginning to end. There were topics I wanted to dive into and I could barely read the table of contents without searching the periphery for more stimulation to pull me off center. It was as if I was searching for relief from the intensity of reading in depth. The whole debilitating process was working against me; pulling me off center.
My relentless desire to read everything on the life and times of Alice Paul was way out of reach until I could teach myself to read comprehensively again. First I relocated my entire reading universe away from all moving distractions: tv, computers, phones, even clocks. Then I got my favorite markers and tabs. And I placed my chair facing away from the window.
The process itself is very similar to pure meditation. Focusing on a breath, a yantra, a mantra requires pulling that compass needle back to the center. Inside the mind a ticker runs constantly with escalating, titillating distraction; running above, below and sides. For hours and hours, the effort is -- Back to center. Back to center. Back to center. One by one the distractions lose their magnetic shine and one begins to actually meditate; not conceentrate but meditate -- to experience no thought.
The big difference in reading is one wants to accumulate content. Reading includes comprehension and building understanding sentence by sentence. That payoff is the ultimate motivation. It took me weeks of willing my concentration to stay in the center lane, to ignore the light beams in the room, resist the urge to get up and see if I had email, the puny ease of taking my eyes off the page just leave the meaty long-winded paragraph.
Ah sweet reading. I am so sorry I forgot your elegance, your transporting richness and your page turning thrill. I am so glad you can be learned again.