Writing time remains unfortunately as elusive as ever while work continues to be all encompassing, sucking up any chance not only for writing but also for reading.
However finding reading time, no matter how brief, has been luckily a little easier to come by.
It is through a recent reading experience that I have come across an element of this most wonderful of pursuits that I had never seriously contemplated until now — reading as therapy.
Like any bookworm I enjoy the fact that stories can take me to parts of the world that I am yet to traverse, or remind me of cities and towns that remain fond holiday ports. I enjoy the fact that someone else’s characters become, for a brief period of time, part of my life, breathing an existence of their own. There is also the opportunity in reading, to embrace worlds and activities one can only dream about.
Reading for me is discovering more about life and my own place in an increasingly complicated world.
One thing about reading that I never really experienced until recently is reading as a distraction.
During the heatwave that descended upon Adelaide earlier this month and feeling that one was at the gates of Hades, I decided to pick up my book rather than turn on the computer to write. I plead this was not procrastination and the reading was linked to my current work in progress, the heat sapping energy was making the brain feel passive than active so reading it was.
Anyhow I digress, having picked up my book in 43C heat I proceeded for the next couple of hours to reacquaint myself with one of my most favourite cities in the world – Paris – and the fascinating story that antiques can sometimes provide. Immersed in a world of auction houses, Parisian apartments and cafes and flirtatious French men I forgot for a brief while about the burning hell that was occurring outside.
A couple of days after my heat escaping read I came across a news article discussing the impending change whereby codeine products were to be only available by prescription. The article included comments by a chronic pain sufferer on the new pain management techniques he had implemented to not only overcome the change but to reduce his reliance on codeine. The new found methods he had embraced to reduce his suffering included reading.
This emerging theme of reading as a distraction came up again the next day while talking to a girlfriend about her stress in trying to find a new house at short notice mentioned how she spent the weekend reading as a way to calm herself down while waiting to see if her application for a new place would be successful. I am pleased to report she also got the house.
These three instances got me thinking… so what it is about reading that makes it more than just a pleasurable pastime and possibly something more transcendental.
Virginia Woolf once wrote that a book “splits us into two parts as we read for the state of reading consists in the complete elimination of the ego, while promising perpetual union with another mind.”
In remembering that quote I immediately understood the importance of reading as a transcendental activity and in turn explaining, to me anyway, why reading can be therapeutic. I also now realise that I have unconsciously used reading for therapy and healing over time without realising the effect it was having on me. Yes, indeed story telling is powerful stuff.
Since this great dawning reality I have started looking at my fiction reading and writing in a new light. Is it my leap into mindfulness, placing me into a meditative state to process and deal with the world?
It seems that science agrees, with its own scientific field — bibliotherapy.
Research around the world indicates that reading can place our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, providing the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Reading has been shown to reduce stress by 68%, more than listening to music, going for a walk, or having a cup of tea. Readers seem to sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers. Now I know why I embrace reading so much.
Last year (2017) I came across for the first time the Australian Reading Hour. This year it will be held on September 20. It doesn’t matter what time of the day you choose but as long as we all find an hour to enjoy the beauty of a printed word. Last year I found my hour by turning off the TV and going to bed early. I really should endeavour to wind down like this more often.
The aim of the day is for Australians to either rediscover or introduce themselves to the benefits of reading.
Given a book tragic like myself has only recently realised the therapeutic benefits of reading, it makes sense why there has to be a day set aside to promote and encourage the benefits of reading for both young and old. Even if you have never been a bookworm in your life, don’t worry it is never too late to pick up a book. It is a journey, I promise you won’t regret.
As another’s words provide therapy for me, I look forward to the day when my own words can be a source of healing for someone else. That’s something for me to aspire to with my writing.
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