Reading and journaling are one of my (almost daily) spiritual practices, the most cognitive of my practices. (If you're interested, I'm currently trying to do daily: read and write, clean something with mindfulness, show love and care to another human being or to nature, stretch/yoga/mindful engagement with my body, and sit in silence. Each can be very short, and many are things I might be doing every day anyway. The difference is in approaching them as a spiritual practice meant to further my own spiritual development as a calm, loving, and enlightened human being.)
In my mind, reading counts as spiritual development when I'm reading the sort of book that brings me closer to engaging with the transcendent mystery and making meaning of life. There are many different types of book that do that:
- Literature. Not all literature, and it is hard to guess what is going to be a spiritual read and what isn't. Just because a book says in its blurb that its "a journey of discovery" or something like that doesn't mean that it will move me. And then books that didn't seem like they would be transformative at all will surprise me.
- Sacred Writings. While these seem like an obvious starting place for reading as a spiritual practice, I find the primary documents of most religions don't easily move me. There are too many issues of translation, context, different cultural norms, etc.
- Writings about religion or spirituality. I almost always am moved and provoked to reflection by the words of someone else who is thinking about or explaining religious ideas.
- Personal memoirs. These all depend on the person who wrote them, and whether I can relate to this person and "like" them.
- Essays. I love books of essays, whether they are Emerson, Kingsolver, Berry, or anthologies such as the one pictured above.
- Poetry. I like poetry, but I find it difficult to find material I will like. I'd like to branch out more in this direction.
- Psychology books. There is a very wide spectrum of quality in the psychology for the layman section of the library. "Pop" psychology can be awful, or it can be fantastic. I just have to give a book a chance, no matter what the cover looks like and how many "Ph.D"'s the author has, and hope for the best.
- Meditation manuals. There are actually books that have been put together specifically to be short reflective reads. They can be really good. Look in that section of the UUA bookstore if you're interested.
And so I set time aside to read every day, and live surrounded by books.