Sometimes, residents at the monastery run different personal experiments. Daniel once went a long time without eating any sugary desserts. If anyone saw him about to eat one, we could remind him, and he had to hand it over. One time, Pan went vegan for several months in honor of another vegan friend. Several residents have done all night sitting or fasting during retreats. I was a huge fan of extra hot saunas back when we rented our old location in a large wood barrel sauna.
Last month, I realized that I was reading a lot as a sort of crutch that was taking away from my mindfulness practice. Most nights, I would lie in bed and read a fiction novel on my kindle. Technically, we’re not suppose to use any electronic screens at night, but books/kindles are allowed.
Sometimes, I found myself reading well into the night and only getting 5-6 hours of sleep then. The bad morning start would inevitably impact the quality of my morning practice which would continue into exercise period and work. Often, whenever I felt a particular other-worldly type momentum in my practice, there would be this other part of me that wants to come back to my old state — maintain a state of homeostasis. It’s weird because I often would feel better. Way more energized. Breathing with my whole body. Solid. In the world. Yet, as soon as I get to bed, a part of me wants to read and scale back that momentum.
So, at the end of the December retreat, I vowed to go 30 days without reading any fiction. That was the 27th. Today, it’s Jan 21. So, almost there.
What have I learned?
Predictably, I switched to reading a lot more non-fiction reading. I finished a new book and started reading several more. With several of the non-fiction, the content starts getting fuzzy, and I want to sleep anyway so that’s an improvement over the fiction reading.
The book I finished was Work Clean: The Life-Changing Power of Mise-En-Place to Organize Your Life, Work and Mind. It has a lot of practical exercises I really enjoy and started implementing. I plan to write more on those too. So, that was a net immediate and obvious benefit over reading yet another short story.
I do want to sleep earlier though. With Soryu back and retreat starting tonight, I will have no distractions to sleep unless I journal or just continue sitting (maybe all nighters this time..).
It’s funny because most people wouldn’t consider reading to be a bad habit or distraction. Who’s it hurting after all? But, it was taking away from my highest goals and priorities. It gave me a type of pleasure and satisfaction, but it often came at making my next day slightly worse.
This isn’t the first time I’ve pinpointed reading as a bad habit. And it’s not the only one. There’s reddit, quora, news, and more. I got obsessed for weeks/months on van dwelling and mini pcs too. But, this is the first time I set a 30 day goal and got success.
Not sure what I’ll do after the 30 days. I don’t think I’ll return to fiction. If anything, I may cut back on my non-fiction now too.