Take a look in any magazine on newsstands right now and you will no doubt find dozens of articles on beach reads: lists of book “perfect” to take on your summer vacation. I always read these articles, but only for the book recommendations. Something that I’ve never been able to understand is how you can read at the beach because really, I can’t think of a worse place to read than the beach.
One of the tenets of mindfulness is keeping focus on one thing at a time. It is the opposite of multitasking, of being busy-busy-busy and of doing everything on your to-do list in a day’s time. It’s about picking one item on the list, and focusing on doing it and doing it well.
Reading is a great way to practice mindfulness, and so is sitting at the beach; but not at the same time.
Close your eyes for a second and envision yourself at the beach; think of all that you will see and hear: loud voices from children and parents, waves crashing, bright sunlight, wind, itchy sand, sea spray, your companions nearby…
Even someone who thinks they can tune out the noise of the beach and focus completely on a book will not be entirely successful. It just isn’t possible. Reading involves you and the book, nothing and no one else. I don’t see how it’s possible to give a book your full, undivided attention while sitting out at the beach; or on vacation in general, even if that vacation doesn’t being next to large bodies of water.
Here’s a non-beach example for you: last year we went to a baseball game. Just with that information already, you know that the scene is going to be loud, noisy, crowded and full of sights and smells to keep you stimulated for as long as possible. A family of four was sitting in front of us: two young children, a man and a woman. The woman had an e-reader on her lap and was talking to the kids, talking to the man, watching the game, eating, and swiping pages on her e-reader faster than I have ever seen someone do. Even looking over her shoulder like the snoop that I am, I couldn’t read the pages as fast as she (supposedly) was.
It kind of bummed me out, because here were so many great things going on around her (a game to watch, family to spend time with, and a book to read) and she wasn’t focusing on any of them. It may have appeared that she was multitasking and doing three things at once, but I sensed that she wasn’t giving her all to any one of those items. It would have been impossible.
Books in themselves are meditative works so it makes sense that they would require our full attention when reading. A lot of magazine publications have switched to advertising summer reads as opposed to beach reads, which I think will help emphasize that books aren’t necessarily meant to be brought along on vacations. I know there are people who say they can read anywhere at any time and I believe them wholly, because I could too; but doing so takes away from where you are right now and the experiences you are missing out on. The best way to get the most out of your time is to focus on one activity at a time: reading, or taking in the sights and sounds of your vacation. If you try to do both, you’ll discount one or the other and end up missing out. Practicing mindfulness in this way lets you get the best of each activity you do, as long as you’re giving it your full attention.