‘Slow Reading’

Slow reading is the intentional reduction in the speed of reading, carried out to increase comprehension or pleasure. The concept appears to have originated in the study of philosophy and literature as a technique to more fully comprehend and appreciate a complex text. More recently, there has been increased interest in slow reading as a result of the slow movement and its focus on decelerating the pace of modern life.

 

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Nicki at The Bliss of Solitude, wrote a wonderful piece on her year-long reading of Thoreau’s Walden and how the effect of reading two pages per day changed her as she walked familiar paths and trails. She says, “it was the slow seeping in of Thoreau, his tireless and minute observations of Walden Pond, Walden Woods, and his awareness and sensitivity to the sights and sounds within that redirected my attention to observation and contemplation.”

Something resonated for me on this practice of slow reading, although Nicki’s profound experience rather intimidated me!  Nevertheless, I decided to choose my own year-long project.

When I participated in The Emerald City Book Review’s WitchWeek last November, it was with scanty knowledge of King Arthur and the stories connected with him. I chose to write a piece on one small aspect of the legends, The Round Table, which was not only enjoyable to research, but piqued my interest to read more. But where to start?

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I chose Sir Thomas Malory’s, Le Morte D’Arthur, because it has been a foundational work on King Arthur and the various people and legends of Camelot and the Holy Grail for writers and artists throughout the centuries and its size lends itself to a purpose such as this. Reading 3 pages a day from my Modern Library Classics edition means I should finish shortly before the end of the year.

My pattern has been to walk after reading the 3 pages contemplating a theme or two and then making a few notes in a journal. I find I am retaining what I learn day to day. So far so good!

 

Have you heard of the Slow Movement in general or the Slow Read in particular? Have you tried it?

And if you are curious, it’s still January and still time to choose your own book!

Ceremonials of Common Days, Abbie Graham (1923)

Every letter is something of a miracle. A soul dictates its thoughts. Queer markings appear on a piece of paper. The paper is sealed and stamped. Other signs are placed on the outer covering. The little packet is intrusted [sic] to utter strangers. It arrives. It is translated by another soul. It may transform a day–those hieroglyphics of a soul.

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This book-find was providential. I stumbled upon it at the library used book department.

It is a short book by an author I’d never heard of, but just a glance through the pages showed me not just a kindred spirit, but a mentor, a way-shower who teaches me to revel in the sacredness of mundane daily life. This is a spiritual book without theology or sectarian divides, celebrating ordinary aspects of the daily round from the playful to the profound. As such, Graham is quick to define charged words so as not to be misinterpreted:

Soul and Heaven will have no philosophical nor theological connotation. Soul will be used as a symbol to represent the most important part of a person, the part that is admitted into Heaven. Heaven will refer to the place we think of when we think very quickly, before we have the opportunity to consult any second-hand information. A Ceremonial may be interpreted as a spiritual obeisance to the created beauty of the world.

The word Ceremonial as Graham uses it is something you create either in your mind while waiting for an appointment or on the train or a physical act you do alone or for someone. A Ceremonial is a way of thanking, acknowledging, of gratitude. Her words are simple, but deep and descriptive.

Divided into four sections corresponding to the four seasons, Graham starts with Winter and Christmas Eve when “Love is clothed with visible vestments, with gifts and written words…The love that through the year is silenced by ‘busy-ness’ is expressed in terms of tangible beauty. Christmas Eve is the Ceremonial of Gifts, of gifts that are given to explain something which the heart cannot say.”

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Graham leaves space to create your own ceremonials.

In Spring she celebrates The Day of the First Fruits of My Garden. “It is a song of joy for created things—joy that a seed planted in the ground will bring forth its fruit in its season; that a dream intrusted [sic] to the soil of a human heart will bring forth its harvest of an hundred fold.”

In the Spring there are also Vagabond Rites that take place on trains, walks through town, pilgrimages to a favorite orange orchard. The “pretentious rites” are those of train travel that involve overnights where the newness of views out the window, food prepared differently, the company of strangers is a Ceremonial that “loosens up tightened soil and conserves wonder.”

Graham writes with touching tenderness about writing letters on New Year’s Eve, the kindness of Pullman car porters, of coffee, fountain pens and the desire to free all the balloons from the balloon man, because they belong to the sky.

In Summer, there is the Liturgy of Common Things like coffee, for instance.

The Coffee Ceremonial is observed at breakfast following the first night of camping out in summer. The only requirement is that there must be enough and to spare…Good coffee is good, not because of blends or grades but because of sociability and leisure. The best coffee is Sunday morning coffee, or camp coffee, or afternoon coffee, or after-dinner coffee, or coffee which is drunk on some such unhurried social occasion. The Ceremonial of Coffee is, therefore, a Ceremonial of Comradeship.

In Summer, there is also the Ceremonial of Hotel Stationary, made possible by the hotel management who also gives you “pen, ink, blotters and mail box.”

All year round there is the Ceremonial of Sundays, called specifically, The Festival of Beauty, of Loved Things, of Leisure, and of Worship.

I reserve for it whatever I most enjoy—flowers, blue china at breakfast, books, important letters, special walks, colored candles at supper and waffles, pine incense and colored flames in my fire. On Sunday I would not do any work, not say nor think nor do unworthy things. I may this day announce to the people who I like the fact that I do like them.

Autumn brings Thanksgiving and the Ceremonial of Being Glad for People, not necessarily people she knows well, but the anonymous children she passes who play in the street, shop owners, porters on trains, post office employees who make letter-writing possible, musicians, nurses—

for those whom I know only through the printed page, for those who have designed certain buildings and parks and monuments, who have constructed roads, for those who sit in offices and plan for the well-being of the world, for the people around the world who work that I may have the necessities of life.

For Thanksgiving is an articulate season, a time for expressing the unspoken things of the heart. The Ceremonial of Being Glad for People was the initial ceremonial. Because of it the other ceremonials were made necessary.

The end of Autumn brings her full-circle when it is time for the first fire, which marks winter. “The Ceremonial of My First Fire, belongs to the gods…All the gods who have ever been worshiped through the medium of fire are summoned to this Festival of Fire. (my little wood fire) is no longer an ordinary receptacle for burning wood, it is consecrated with a loveliness that shall make it worthy of the comradeship of a winter.”

Ceremonials of Common Days though published in 1923, reminds me of what I call today’s ‘gratitude movement,’ a daily practice of declaring joy and thankfulness for the ordinary bounty of our lives. I like this perspective, because I think the ordinary and the mundane are underrated. Little miracles occur everyday, but we step over them, ignore or see past them, because we expect something bigger. I love that Graham reminds me that my small little life is bigger than I realize and to realize that is itself a miracle!

Have you ever come across something—a book, a painting, some music that affected you to the extent that it reflected your desire for something deeper or revealed another way of finding meaning in your life at a time when you were vulnerable or at a crossroad?

___________

My Edition
Title: Ceremonials of Common Days
Author: Abbie Graham
Publisher: The Womans Press
Device: Hardcover
Year: 1923
Pages: 97
Summary

For Blogging the Spirit, #BloggingTheSpirit

 

The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion (2006)

My Edition:yearmagicalthinking
Title: The Year of Magical Thinking
Author: Joan Didion
Publisher: Vintage International (Random House)
Device: Trade paperback
Year: 2006
Pages: 227
For a plot summary

 

I like Joan Didion’s work, but when this was originally released my best friend was dying and I just couldn’t touch it. Even though the book wasn’t about cancer, I didn’t want to read about death, as if doing so would be a jinx. And ha! now I understand that was MY bit of magical thinking.

“You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.”[i]

On December 30, 2003, as John Dunne was drinking Scotch and talking to his wife as she made them dinner, he had a massive heart attack.

Didion kept notes as a way to chronicle the many stages of grief she experienced during that first year after her husband’s death. I want to say right away this is not a depressing book. There are many moments of humor as is common even in the most grievous of situations. Instead, she chronicles the large and small thoughts and experiences as she tries to come to terms with his death.

The crazy thoughts that run through her mind ask—“could I have prevented his death in some way? Or could he? Were there clues to this impending tragedy that we both missed?”

~When John asked that they move back to New York City, she put him off, but if she hadn’t would that have affected his heart?

~If she alerted him to studies about the efficacy of low dose aspirin would that have saved him (even though she knew he was on the more powerful anticoagulant Coumadin)?

~In that last conversation before dinner he asked if the drink she made him was with single malt Scotch or the other Scotch, “because I don’t think you should mix them.” Did she miss the meaning there?

~Was he trying to tell her something a few years ago when he wondered if they were frittering away their lives and not really living?

“As I recall this I realize how open we are to the persistent messages that we can avert death.”[ii]

In the end, her grief turns to mourning as this first year passes into the second. Already some aspects of her husband are fading and she thinks of this as a betrayal. But she has to go on. She is still here.

Remembering bits of a conversation when they were swimming to a cave where the tide had to be just right to swim in, John said, “You have to feel the swell change. You have to go with the change.”[iii]

_____________

[i] p. 3.
[ii] p. 206.
[iii] p. 227.

How the Morning Pages Work for Me

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I have been doing the Morning Pages from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way for many years. I am not a regular, but I go through spurts where I write every morning for many weeks. Recently, as the year was ending and a new one beginning, all that desire to let go of stagnation and the optimism of what to bring in found me at it again.

The style of writing for the Morning Pages is stream of consciousness and thoughts in the moment, as the object is words on the page, not a published-ready piece. The idea being what you put down on paper first thing in the morning will not haunt your thoughts for the rest of the day. And often, in an unconscious way, you will write your way out of whatever is bugging you. Since this often happens to me, I think it must be magic. I will actually move from Point A where I am absolutely stuck to Point B where I have the answer.

And every once in a while, I feel like I am getting guidance when I write; that the words being put down on paper are not my thoughts. This is especially obvious when I find the pronouns change from I/me to you. It is as if someone (me?) is trying to tell me something. It is an odd sensation to feel like the pen is moving at someone else’s prompt. But the words are always kind and encouraging pointing out what I’d forgotten about myself or giving me an idea I had not previously considered.

During these last few weeks I have been burning through the suggested three pages a day

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Mission San Juan Capistrano

into four or five and am on my second pen! But each day I shed something: sometimes it’s minor, like rearranging my bookshelves to make better sense or something kind of scary as in reevaluating a relationship. And I am also reminding myself to do more of the things I love: exploring historical sites and writing about them, getting back to baking, trail walking and my Reik practice, for example.

 

I think the Morning Pages work for me because I have been journaling for a very long time and I know when to turn off the logic/researcher part of my brain and allow the dreamer/fantasy side to take over. I need to remember the importance of this balance as I go through the year.

Hey, it is almost the middle of January, I’d better get crackin’!

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Not just a pile of sticks. I discovered a rat midden! Mission Trails, San Diego.