The Ritual of Deep Reading

Today’s article by guest writer R. A. Hackney…

If you have spent any amount of time reading about Spiritual Naturalism you will know that Practice and Ritual are key to being a Spiritual Naturalist.

Further study will reveal a few of the rituals and practices such as: meditation, drumming, contemplation, introspection, and visualization.

The article “What is Spiritual Naturalism” from the website for the Spiritual Naturalist Society, states the following:

The focus of Spiritual Naturalism is happiness, contentment, or flourishing in life, and a relief from suffering. It is a spirituality whereby we work to become wiser and to live better over time through continued learning, contemplative practices, and character development.” [1] (emphasis mine}

As an avid reader and believer in the concept of ‘Lifelong Learning’ I would like to explain the research and benefits of Deep Reading, especially as applied to Spiritual Naturalists.

Let me start by clarifying what is meant by ‘Deep Reading’ as opposed to other types of reading.

Deep reading is not skimming the paper, Yahoo articles, RSS feeds or reading posts on social media.

In the article, ‘You are what you read: How deep reading is effective brain exercise’, Alexa Erickson defines deep reading as follows:

“As opposed to light reading, which involves little more than comprehending and decoding words, deep reading involves reading that is slow, immersive, emotional, and morally complex. When you are deep reading, you are absorbing language rich in detail, allusion, and metaphor. This style of reading works to engage the part of the brain regions that allow the reader to feel as though they are experiencing the event.” [2]

Other writers go on to say that blogs, social media and internet articles and hypertext have changed our very method of reading from the linear, left-to-right sequence of years past to a wild skimming and skipping pattern as we hunt for important words and information.

As the popularity in Twitter grows and smartphones become everyday communication devices frequently used for texting someone, we are training our minds to do even less reading.

In her article ‘Reading slowly can benefit your brain and reduce stress’, Jeanne Whalen provides more detail on the practice of deep (slow) reading.

“Slow reading means a return to a continuous, linear pattern, in a quiet environment free of distractions. Advocates recommend setting aside at least 30 to 45 minutes in a comfortable chair far from cellphones and computers. Some suggest scheduling time like an exercise session. Many recommend taking occasional notes to deepen engagement with the text.” [3]

Of particular importance to followers of Spiritual Naturalism is the scientific studies on cognitive therapy that liken deep reading to meditation. In a New York Times article, author Ceridwen Dovey makes the following statement:

“Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers.” [4] (emphasis mine)

Meditation is one of the most frequently mentioned and commonly taught Ritualistic practices of Spiritual Naturalism.

If this is not enough information to cause you to pick up a good book then here is one more thing to consider from author Mina Dean.

“A new study reveals that reading books can enhance lifespan for up to two years and improve the quality of life.

The study found that people who read books for just 30 minutes a day lived two years longer compared to non-book readers.” [5]

With all of the books mentioned on the Spiritual Naturalist website regarding topics on early forms of philosophy, religion, science, and spirituality there is no end to the source material you have to choose from to start your own practice of deep reading.

My own personal practice involves waking up early in the morning before work, eating a light breakfast and grabbing my first cup of coffee for the day. I then sit in a comfortable reading chair (not so comfortable that I want to go back to sleep) and read for 30 minutes. I allow myself 10-15 minutes after that to contemplate what I have read and how it relates to me personally and my situation in life.

On days when I do this I find myself calmer and less stressed during my hectic work mornings than I do on days I cannot do any reading.

If you want to give this practice a try but have no idea what books would be good to start with, I recommend the “Exploring Spiritual Naturalism” anthology of articles, years 1-3, from the Spiritual Naturalist Society. These books contain articles (or chapters) that are usually readable within a 30-45-minute sitting and provide ample substance to contemplate on and apply to your everyday life.

Best wishes and I hope you enjoy this Ritual as much as I do!


Learn about Membership in the Spiritual Naturalist Society

The Spiritual Naturalist Society works to spread awareness of spiritual naturalism as a way of life, develop its thought and practice, and help bring together like-minded practitioners in fellowship.



  1. What is Spiritual Naturalism?
  2. You are what you read: How deep reading is effective brain exercise, by Alexa Erickson, Collective Evolution, Mon, 18 Jul 2016 18:22 UTC
  3. Reading slowly can benefit your brain and reduce stress, by Jeanne Whalen, The Wall Street Journal, Tue, 16 Sep 2014 07:40 UTC
  4. Can Reading Make You Happier? By Ceridwen Dovey, The New Yorker, June 9, 2015

Roger Hackney is a lifelong learner and avid reader of books of all types. He has a dual Business and Computer Science degree from a major U.S university and also a PhD in Holistic Nutrition & Health from a non-traditional college. Roger likes to view life from a “global” perspective. He likes to learn about different cultures, religions, and people. Roger currently lives in the Southwestern United States but loves the Northeast where he was born and raised.

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