A Blended Style of Reading

When I first learned literary analysis the prime reading styles were socio-historical and close reading. In the last few years, I have learned the hermeneutic of suspicion (especially as found in post-colonialism and queer theory). I have never been a big fan of using only one reading style; now I am a big fan of considering them not as theories but as tools which I will need in turn to re-assemble a text.

Re-assemble a text? Yes. As I write this I assemble it for you. As you read this your mind decodes each word for meaning and then re-assembles the text in your mind for contemplating and absorbing. Your mind may contemplate it quickly or slowly depending on your reading style.

The blended style should allow you to perform the following mental tasks as you re-assemble and contemplate:

  • Who is writing this? What do I know about the author and their world? Is it the same as my own?
  • When and where does this text take place (for stories)? When and where am I to think about (for facts and ideas)? How are those times and places different from where I am reading this?
  • What do the words actually say? What am I assuming they say? Is that different from what they say?
  • What do I think is the author’s reason for writing this? In what way does the author want me to walk away a different person? Am I simply to be energized by action or romance? Am I to have new thoughts?
  • Did the author intend me to be the audience or is the intended audience someone else? If it is someone else then what am I to take away from the text?
  • Who has the power in this text? Who is passive? What does that say about the relation between the author and me?
  • Where does the actual message in this text meet with other texts I have read? If I have something else very similar, why did I read this one too?
  • Where does the actual message meet my ideas (my belief system)? Am I seeking to reinforce or alter my belief system? Why?

I could keep generating questions, but I must stop at some point and this point seems convenient to me as an author.

Perhaps, dear reader, you are wondering why I think you write literary analysis papers after every text you read. No, I am not thinking that. I am simply proposing that to get to a place of self-honesty and proper self-evaluation I have needed to get to a blended style of reading that neither rejects texts out of hand nor embraces them ignorantly. Those ways of reading let me stay in the blindness that Kalu Rinpoche mentions.

It seems important to me, and you are free to disagree, that reading a text is an experience of distant conversation. I should not hog the conversation, nor should I assume I am the only one whose understanding of the conversation matters. I should try to always be mindful that the author is a person also and has rights in the conversation, even though I as reader will have the last say.

The reason I mention all this is that I have been reading novels lately which have been well-written, and I wonder what effect they are supposed to have on me. Are they to humble or elevate me? I have also been reading prayers and have had much the same questions. And I find myself using this blended style of reading to good effect. It has kept me from assuming.

What about you? How do you read in such a way that it leads you to self-honesty and proper self-evaluation?


A Reflection on Kalu Rinpoche – 14 March

“However, we observe the presence of blindness, as the basis of the other emotions [emotions that cause conflict]. This blindness means that we do not understand the implications of our acts and our situation. It also means that, when a thought or an emotion happens, we do not see anything other than the simple feeling of the thought or emotion. We do not recognize the nature and the origin of this thought.” Kalu Rinpoche “Profound Buddhism” page 40

Yesterday I was pondering what a wise teacher of mine calls Radical Humility. Columba Stewart, as I understand him, refers to a stance of seeing one’s place in creation correctly, of seeing one’s talents, strengths, flaws and history fully in regard to others and to the universe. As I use the phrase, Radical Humility is seeing oneself as semi-unique, different in some ways but not all ways from others, seeing oneself as faulty sometimes but not all the time, and seeing how oneself is a valuable member of one’s group.

Kalu Rinpoche seems to be writing about the same level of self-knowledge. I am not at the level completely, but I am on the way. I am further than I was in the past. For me, it has been self-analysis of why I hold certain opinions and have certain attitudes. In my childhood I had a false sense of my self-worth; the sense was unrealistically low. Whether that came from the people around me or some innate mis-perception or a combination of the two, I can’t say. I have had to regard the facts of my case, to listen to the praise of others, to view the external assessments of my talents, and to listen to my sense of joy (joy-meter) so that I could determine what I do well and what I do less well. I have had to not accept my blindness as Kalu Rinpoche puts it.

I still have blindness, both physically and figuratively. I wear glasses for my physical vision deficit, and I meditate and self-analyze for my figurative blindness. This learning to see my inner self has allowed me to embrace positive self-talk. I do not mean overly evaluative self-praise, and am instead meaning realistic and positive statements. For example, I can do anything I set my mind to is overly evaluative, almost to the point of arrogant self-entitlement. However, I can do what I need to do and will ask for help if I need it is more realistic and positive.

How about you, gentle reader? Do you have inner blindness that prevents you from setting the positivity level of your self-talk to a level you can believe (to be realistic)? Have you been working to see yourself in Radical Humility?

A Reflection on Kalu Rinpoche – 13 March

“Buddha describes the different facets of the Hinyana path…In the framework of Hinyana, the Buddha emphasized personal experience of a state free of all suffering. As indicated in the Third Noble Truth, what is sought is the ‘cessation’ of suffering and what produces suffering. Suffering then is transformed into a state of happiness and peace.”  Kalu Rinpoche “Profound Buddhism” Page 19

In case you have not heard of Kalu Rinpoche before, he was a Tibetan monk who emigrated to France in 1971, a lama of the Kagyu Shangpa lineage. He has devoted many lifetimes to the scholarly pursuit of understanding the path to enlightenment.

This passage reflects what I have found to be true. That to seek peace I must remove what causes turmoil or suffering. Peace is an absence state. I can’t force or impose it. I must deal with what prevents it in a positive manner. To deal with the negative in life in a negative manner does not bring me peace.

So today, gentle reader, I hope we can all find some peace by looking at what causes us small sufferings and responding with positive remedies.

Automatic is not the same thing as Inevitable

My good news for you today is that automatic is not the same thing as inevitable. Psychologists have coined the term automatic thoughts for those instant reactionary thoughts we have. For example, when I see green beans I may without trying have the thought that I love green beans or when tax season is mentioned I may have the thought that I have never been good at doing taxes. These thoughts appear so fast in my mind that I may think they come from some outside source or that they are automated. They seem unstoppable and inevitable.

I have found, however, that these thoughts are simply a recent favorites playlist. If I choose a positive thought and say it on and off for days on end, it will become part of that playlist. That’s how ad slogans get into our automatic thoughts. If you, gentle reader, remember the US in the 70s then I need only say I’d like to buy the world… I bet you filled in the rest of that cola ad slogan from your old playlist.

So am I saying that you can easily replace negative self-talk? No. I am saying that you are in control of the recent favorites playlist from which daily, mundane automatic thoughts come. Simply writing a new saying on the wall and reading it many times a day will put it in the playlist. Whether you will pull positive or negative thoughts from the playlist is the tricky part. Also, whether the reactionary thought is from the recent playlist or an old playlist is also tricky.

My good news for you is that you can keep adding positive phrases and sayings and you can reject the first automatic thought and request another from the playlist through mindfulness.

So are we to be mindful all the time? I can’t seem to get there. Some who meditate more than me suggest we can get closer to that. Though I am not sure mindfulness does or should equate to hyper-vigilance over my thoughts.  Perhaps I am striving too hard if I wish to be always vigilant. My mind has automatic thoughts to spare it from having to form a conscious reaction to every input.

So simply putting more positive sayings on the playlist may help. Even during tax season.

Have you had success with adding positive thoughts, gentle reader? I hope so and wish you further success.