You are going to be so happy you found this blog post.
I’m sharing a very cool practice that has allowed me to truly incorporate life lessons. You can try it too, and tell me what you think.
It’s adapted from a Benedictine tradition of reading scripture very intently, with pause to allow words to sink in, stir and move. The traditional practice is called Lectio Divina. It does not treat scripture as texts to be studied, but as what Christians call “the living word.”
Now don’t worry. I’m not gonna go all “god” on ya. I got no answers for you there.
I am going to share this cool practice with you because it really shifted things for me. If you’re tired of sappy affirmations, listicles, and memes that stupidly summarize multi-leveled issues, this one’s for you.
The practice of Lectio Divina requires reading a piece multiple times, slowly, with the intention of listening for what is speaking to you.
I adapted the practice this way. I took one reading at a time, in this case the deliciously bite-sized chapters of Pema Chodron’s The Wisdom of No Escape. I read each 2-3 page chapter every night for a week
The first reading was just a nice, relaxed reading. Just read the chapter.
The second night, I read through again, slowly, then went back and highlighted and underlined phrases that jumped out at me.
The third night, I read the same chapter, start to finish. This time, I wrote notes in the margins, jotting down my reactions.
The fourth reading, I chose one line or phrase that I most loved and wrote it in my journal. I followed that up with repeating the phrase, mantra-like, as many times as needed to memorize it, at least temporarily.
Night five, after reading the chapter again, I journaled, sometimes focusing on the one phrase, sometimes on the reading as a whole, and mostly just short writings because that’s been my style with journaling lately.
On the sixth night, the final reading through the chapter, I made a notecard reflecting my take-away from the chapter, some aspect I wanted to have quick access to, something notecard worthy. I didn’t go crazy, just a 3×5 card and a sharpie.
On the seventh day, she rested.
Often, by the third reading, I was tempted to just skim and move on. Truly, it became a mind game to resist that habit and s-l-o-w down. As you might expect, there was a little boredom with re-reading and re-reading night after night. Yet, I was surprised how commonly I found something “new” on day four or even five.
It’s ingrained in me – from who knows where – to race toward the goal. There’s discomfort for me in idleness and inefficiency. I condemn even the most minimal “wasted time,” like every time I pick the wrong lane at the grocery store. (“Dammit, I could have gotten out of here 53 seconds ago.”)
Not to mention, the goal itself was an enticing trap. Get that notecard! A gold star graduate, ready for the next chapter.
By chapter 14, I was done. With a few longer chapters cut into two readings, I’d worked with the practice for something like 16-17 weeks. Some family responsibilities prevented me from getting to it one night, and I lost my mojo.
My ultra goal-oriented worldview made it hard to just stop when I was ready. I didn’t complete the task. I was a quitter. The book still had a few more chapters, and it sat there, taunting me from my bedside table, before I gussied up and put the book back on the shelf.
Using this practice, I began to view these self-help books and spiritual practices differently. Instead of goals to accomplish, and maybe grabbing at a new perspective here or there, I just let it sit. No agenda, no goal, nothing to fix.
Here are a few of the gems that became notecards:
- Not too tight. Not too loose. The squeeze is where we grow.
- Letting go is spontaneous, not forced.
- We are the only ones who know what wakes us up and what puts us to sleep.
- Connect with joyfulness.
- Everything in you is saying no, and then, at that point, softening.
- This isn’t an improvement plan.
The little mantras I captured from the process may seem like a tidy end product for all the work of the practice, but they are more. Each short phrase brings back the entire reading, the process, the questions and reactions, the “a-has” and the teachings. Not literally, but viscerally, more of a felt sense of the messages.
They are the difference between buying the concert t-shirt and clammering up to the front to catch the one Bono throws from the stage.
It would work for lots of types of readings: poetry, essays, blogs, famous speeches, sermons, lyrics. I suggest picking something not too long, maybe 1000 words max. This blog post, as an example, is about 800 words. Try it!
Let the words find their way into you, through you, and out.
Then tell me what happened. Comment below.