The Case for Reading Less

Why read less you ask? When books are so wonderful and initiatives to connect people with more reading abound? This idea of reading less has been turning over within me for a rather long time. I’ve had fascinating talks with friends, most of whom have lent me some amazing books.

It’s true reading has multiple benefits, including exercising your mind, improving your comprehension and thinking skills, learning empathy, expanding information and knowledge, enhancing your memory, and reducing stress. Reading is an essential skill today to communicate and to land that job, for example. Reading is a pleasure, exploring all these different realms.

why we should be reading less photo by radu-marcusu

I am an avid reader myself, of science fiction and fantasy, travel and exploration, mysteries, literature, design, and of course, wellness and spirituality. When I was a university student, majoring in International Relations, I also read politics, economics, and history. I am the first to agree that having consumed books of wide-ranging interests has been a plus. It’s fed my curiosity and gave me more dots to connect. So why am I now saying perhaps we should be reading less?

First I want to say that there is a balance point, different for everyone. Some people can benefit from reading more and some from reading less. It’s important for children, for example, to read a lot, to keep the fires of their curiosity burning and to build their personal scaffolding for their knowledge base. Reading also helps build confidence and we definitely want children to grow up rooted in a strong sense of self.

At some point, however, everyone has to stop reading and start living. Life is about more than conceptualizing and theorizing. Books can give us tips, starting points, and models as well as inspiration, hope, and community. The question is how does our own life unfold? We have to leave the safety of the written word and venture into the unknown of the real world. And pen our own story.

That means engaging with people, the environment, and life itself. Even for children, just reading without discussing their discoveries and laying their hands on the earth, meeting the animals, and swimming in the ocean is insufficient for true learning. It is also likely to perpetuate society’s tendency to prize IQ over EQ.

The Felt Experience

We all probably know a quote or two by famous people. Perhaps they are inspirational sayings that help us through tough days and even the dark night of the soul. There are likely writers we all go to, when we would appreciate a reminder of a higher road. Rumi. Einstein. Calvin & Hobbs.

I know people love quotes. I see a whole bunch on my social media feed, with lots of ❤️s.

Here’s the thing. What I often feel is that these quotes are helping someone feel okay with who they are when they aren’t completely sold on the point themselves. Their pain is quite palpable through the ethers. I’m sure we can all relate, when someone else’s words just lit us up because we felt seen, understood, and belonged. I know because I’ve also done the same.

These however are mental concepts, ideas and even ideals for how we think it should be. Far too many people pine after the life and lifestyle of other people. I daresay that while reading – and finding our own story in another person’s tale, can be healing, reading more is not the path to self-love.

This is especially true for the head types who tend to read more, looking for beliefs, information, and distractions. If you are an Enneagram Type 5, 6 or 7, you probably know what I’m talking about.  Fives perhaps love their mind most – that’s where they withdraw to, to deal with their fear about their ability to cope with the outer world. They build these complex inner worlds – mind palaces, in Sherlock’s case – and feel they must be masters and know all before they can venture out in confidence. Information, however, is not wisdom. Collecting data points doesn’t come close to living life.

While most of us won’t call ourselves poets, we all have a creative pulse beating inside each of us. Even if our offerings are not as sublime, what can you share about who you are, your experiences, in your own words? Instead of borrowing someone else’s voice, standing behind other people’s written words, being authentic – whether you are on a spiritual journey or not – is about speaking as ourselves.

It’s easy to share quotes we all love; it takes courage to voice your own.

Take a listen and glimpse into the world of the Fives, through this podcast with Ryan O’Neal of Sleeping At Last. He chats with Chris Heuertz about the Enneagram and the Fives and you can listen to his song about this Enneagram Type. It’s stunning.

The Empty Vessel

No one wants to be called a fool, right? In Tarot, the Fool is the first card in the Major Arcana, which we can explore as the archetypes in our journey. The Fool is beginning on their journey, innocent, hopeful, and optimistic. He reminds us that in every moment, there is unlimited potential. The thing about the Fool is that unencumbered by the world’s beliefs, he is also an empty vessel. He is an earthly container for the expression of his Higher Self.

In Biography of Silence, Spanish priest and Zen disciple Pablo d’Ors writes about his meditation experiences, specifically his struggles as he started. He is a writer who had wanted to see if meditation could help him write better. In this book, we find many gems of wisdom and fruit for thought. He proposes that we meditate more when we think more and when we read more. “To empty it [the mind] of all the words.”

These beliefs, ideas, and information only clutter our mind. We become attached. If you ever had to write an essay, you probably would have experienced this attachment. You become rather fond of a few sentences, and write around them. Or perhaps you tried to memorize your speech, and become frustrated at the inability to recall certain phrases, even as you start to find your flow.

Beliefs can distract and even take us away from experiencing life itself. They colour a neutral occurrence with all our “I”-ness. With meditation, we can empty ourselves of constructs that keep us distanced from real experiences. Through meditation, we become the witness, standing apart from what is happening, be it our beliefs or our patterns, and watch it with detachment.

We think life a lot, but we live it little.

Pablo D’Ors, Biography of Silence

The Divine Mind

Now what and why we read also makes a difference. Are we reading to escape? Do the books, magazines, and tweets satisfy a part of us that craves drama or distraction? Are the words we consume low- or high-vibrational?

Does what we read feed our ancient mind? This mind is survival-based. It is full of fear, dominance, conquest, and aggression, always seeking ways to fix things. This, Stone Medicine practitioner and teacher Sarah Thomas reminds us, is the small self. We all have this ancient mind. How are we feeding this ancient mind? What are we mistaking and confusing here? Taking what is impermanent as permanent? Pursuing happiness and security in the external world?

Or is what we are reading feeding our divine mind? Sarah explains this is where play, imagination, curiosity, and intention arise from. Through the divine mind, information becomes knowledge becomes wisdom. It is discerning yet innocent. To live from the divine mind, we must free ourselves from the hold of the ancient mind. We free ourselves of low-vibrational thought patterns, ancient survivalist beliefs and traditions, and a linear approach to life.

Read Less, Live More

Remember the genres of books I mentioned previously? What I have read contains reams of information that I can transform into wisdom (through the lived experience). They also fill my mind with layer upon layer of constructs, history written by the victors, the information mainstream education wants to inculcate us with, skewed in some way from the whole truth.

This is when “ignorance is bliss” may apply. Being ignorant of what the overculture is about, what experts tell us is the truth, what historians tell us has happened and likely to happen again, what is the right technique to ascension, is not a bad thing.

With mindfulness and courage, we remember this is just one version of reality. How are we allowing low-vibrational messages, beliefs, and hypnosis enter our energy field and mind? Over time, the seeds planted are watered by any fears we hold or any propaganda we buy into. Or by the strength of our dreams, the calling of our spirit, and the pure light of our heart.

When we do read, we must question how it sits with us. What is the energy of the narrative, of the author, of the times they are from? How does our body respond? What does our heart tell us? Are we being seduced because we feel less than?

We are the authors and the heroines and heroes of our story. Rather than let the mouthpiece of groups with vested interests contrary to our own pull us into their narrative, we must be aware of keeping our field clean of elements that do not support us in fulfilling our potential.

Sit at more tables, and seek out what we do not normally read or expose ourselves to, whether it is banned literature or controversial tweet. It’s time we educate ourselves of diverse and divergent viewpoints that have been obscured, condemned, or burned from our libraries. Venture out for more conversations that unite, even as we remain individuals with different interests and desires.