Presence: breathing, sitting, getting out of the building

My life has been a little chaotic lately due in part to a family health issue. I’m fortunate that I work close to home, and close to the various appointments my family member has to attend. And I am able to be a little bit flexible by coming in early, taking shorter lunches, etc. But as you all know, library work, or any public service job, is not all that flexible because we have to be present to do our jobs. I’m a supervisor, so I have to be not just physically present but mentally present to the people who work for me. And to my peers and boss, especially as it’s budget and planning season for FY 2016. And to the public, who are the reason public libraries exist; as I’ve written here before, many of our patrons are seeking human contact as much as they are seeking books and information.

So, presence is key in all the parts of my life. I’ve been a somewhat haphazard student of mindfulness for many years, and I try to be a regular practitioner especially in times of high stress like I’m experiencing now. If you don’t know what it’s about, basically, being mindful is all about being in the present moment. I’m a better person when I’m practicing regularly. But I hadn’t considered that I might also be a better librarian when I’m being mindful.

I recently learned that the Law Librarians of New England spring conference is devoted to mindfulness. I was curious to see if this is a trend in our profession and discovered a number of interesting resources for mindful librarianship, including a webinar offered by University of Minnesota, a resource guide from the New England Library Association conference in 2011, and a Library Journal article from last spring about Sparq Meditation Labyrinth, which uses simple technology to project a light labyrinth and is in use in a number of college libraries.

My library isn’t formally integrating mindfulness into the workplace, but our city wellness program did offer an intro. class which I attended, I admit, in order to meet the requirements for reducing my insurance costs. Even though I’ve read a number of good books on mindfulness over the years (and am reading one to my teen daughter right now, called Sit Like A Buddha), the class was really interesting. I think this is a subject one can learn about forever and still not know everything about. And I know it helps me at work, at home, and anytime I remind myself, gently, to be mindful.

Another cool thing I did this week was attend a roundtable discussion sponsored by the Reference and Adult Services division of my state library association. Getting out of the building can be stressful — it means changing the desk schedule, arranging for coverage of necessary tasks, etc. But meeting with fellow librarians, especially in a format designed to share as much experience with each other as possible, is wonderful. The topic of our roundtable was The Community Driven Library. Among the many things I learned: Mahjong is big in several small town libraries nearby, all those extra mass market paperbacks from the book sale are perfect for stocking a town beach or pool, and there are several cake pan collections on loan in my small state. Besides getting good ideas, I connected or re-connected with colleagues and generally felt refreshed and reminded that I’m part of an awesome profession.

So, breathe, sit, be present, and get out of the building. You’ll be a better librarian for doing these simple things.

 

2013 Reading Resolutions

As both a librarian who loves readers’ advisory and a book review columnist (The Mindful Reader), I read a fair number of books. At our neighbors’ post holiday bonfire last weekend I was a little embarrassed when someone pointed out that I read around 2-3 books a week most of the time (which I blog about at bookconscious) and other guests seemed to find that pretty odd. I’m often reading one book for the column and 1-2 others at the same time. Someone asked me whether I really retain what I’m reading at that pace.

I muttered something brilliant like “I think so” but a better response is “it depends.” If I’m skimming something so I know whether or not I want to recommend it to library patrons, say a craft book or a genre I don’t usually read, maybe I don’t remember everything, but in that situation, I’m not trying to retain it. If it’s a book for the column that deserves a review but I don’t love (I try to cover books that appeal to a wide range of tastes, not just my own) I do read mindfully, but I also tend to let the book go as soon as I’ve written about it.

If on the other hand, I’m reading either for research or for pleasure, I take my time, unless of course the book is page turner. And I think I do retain what I’m reading, even if the details (like all details in my mid-40’s mind) are sometimes hard to recall perfectly. Retention aside, I’ve heard Paul Harding speak a few times and he advocates slow reading because the experience is better, you notice more, you can enjoy the beauty of a good book if you’re not rushing it.

To read (and live) well, I think the key is to be fully engaged,to allow what you’re experiencing to become a part of your not to have perfect recall. When I reviewed The Sojourn by Andrew Krivak on bookconscious I wrote, “In my view, the best books stay with you, working on your own stored memory, fusing themselves with all you’ve read and all you’ve been, incorporating themselves into what you’ll be. Books that last are books that make meaning, that consciously or unconsciously change the way you view the next thing you read, the next idea you consider, the next response you have to the world. ” You could say the best way to read is to make yourself available to that.

So while I’m not making fancy reading resolutions and or joining formal challenges (after falling short of my Europa Challenge goal last year), I do plan to practice mindfully savoring whatever I’m reading for reading’s sake. Work reading is work reading, and I’ll continue to do that as efficiently as is necessary. Although occasionally something counts as both work and pleasure.

I will participate in two community reads in 2013: I’m on the Concord Reads committee and will read whatever we choose for that. And Books on the Nightstand’s Project Short Story sounds both fun and doable. What are your 2013 reading resolutions?

Mindfulness 101

Stress is a natural reaction to changes in our environment — it’s our mind’s way of saying, “Whoa! I’m not ready to adapt to this.”  The start of a new school term brings stress for students, educators, staff, and communities (all that extra traffic!), so it seems like the perfect time to consider a very effective method of dealing with stress: mindfulness.

Mindfulness is intentional awareness and acceptance of what is happening. It can be combined with other practices, such as meditation or prayer, but can also just be a part of everyday activities. While it’s simple, it’s also challenging – our brains are trained from a young age to multi-task and to split our attention among competing stimuli. We are also used to reacting to that stimuli without really thinking about why or how we are responding. Mindfulness requires practice.

Noticing, (“This printer is not working,”) refraining from judging (hating the printer, fretting over the missing document or lost time), and accepting (I’ll just have to troubleshoot) can shift our attention and deter stress reactions (raised voice, elevated heart rate, feelings of anger, worry, frustration). There’s no denial involved; mindfulness isn’t about ignoring or glossing over difficult situations; we observe the challenge, notice our feelings, and let it all pass with our equilibrium likely intact. Mindfulness increases our own well being and improves our interactions with others.

Science shows that it also literally changes our minds. Dr. Richard Davidson is famous for studying Tibetan monks’ brains, as well as pre-schoolers and veterans (a Danish documentary about his work will be out soon).  Davidson’s research indicates mindfulness “re-wires” our brains.  Jon Kabat-Zinn has written extensively on the health benefits of mindfulness, particularly in managing stress, pain, and depression.

So if you’re sitting in morning traffic or starting a new semester, juggling schedules or sending a child to college, balancing your budget or looking for work, answering reference questions or troubleshooting network issues, try a little mindfulness.