I am definitely what one would call a creature of habit and love my routine oh-so-much. Recently my guided journal provided me with a writing prompt to describe the ideal/perfect morning. And to be honest, as I considered the idea, it didn’t look all that much different than business as usual. I’d still get up early (usually between 5-530 AM) surrounded by my little fam and I’d prefer to eat one of my “normal” breakfast foods in my kitchen with a cup of coffee in hand and messy bun atop my head, before I head out to teach and take barre. Initially when I think about these types of questions, I sometimes feel a twinge of remorse for being so “boring,” but then I realize that I really don’t care, because that is what I love and how I start a good day. And, although I think I’ve for the most part always been a morning person, especially as I have gotten older (and possibly a bit wiser) I have realized that sleep is vitally important and thus I go to bed earlier. A good day for me ends with bedtime around 10-1030 PM, sometimes with a book in hand. HOWEVER, this past week I have willfully violated my own bedtime rules not once, but twice! Not because I was out and doing anything which most people would consider exciting, but because I was completely and utterly immersed in reading. As part of my 2018 Summer Bucket List, I have read nothing but fiction for the month of July. Although reading in general is a big part of my life, I do usually stick to nonfiction. And although I realize that both types of books are often valuable, interesting, and well worth the time, I have noticed that for me once I get into a novel, there’s pretty much no stopping until I’ve ravenously turned the last page. Thus the reason that for two nights in a row I was up until 1 AM finishing two different books; only stopping because they were over. It may not seem like such a big deal, but for an uptight Upholder, violating my own “rules” is uncommon enough for me to stop and pay attention to what is going on. It was then that I began to reflect on the benefits of reading fiction.
As Hannah Frankman described in her article for Medium, reading fiction is important because it helps to understand other worldviews and perspectives, “fiction has a power that no other form of communication does: the power to insert you fully and completely in someone else’s mind. It is a meld between the mind of the reader and the writer, and the minds of reader and character. When you read fiction, you’re seeing the world through a character’s eyes.” And this is one of the big benefits of reading fiction – it helps us to be able to do this in the real world. In my own opinion, the ability to take on or at least consider a perspective alternative to your own is one of the most beneficial life skills to have. You avoid a lot of frustration, confusion, and hurt when you do and you also often learn to expand or possibly further validate your own viewpoint and paradigms.
Probably as a result of being a dogmatic, stick-in-the-mud routine addict and a Mile Deep person, I often find myself getting really caught up in the details – looking at the trees instead of the forest. But the ability to provide a wider angle shot of the big picture is yet another one of the benefits of reading fiction. In a narrative, things are condensed, and the highlights or significant events are described in such a way that we can get a clearer view of underlying themes, trends, or truths. We realize throughout a character’s story that it is often the little things and interactions along the way which have a cumulative effect building towards the climax. And of course, it’s the same thing in our own lives. Often hindsight is 20/20, but in the space of only a couple hundred pages, we can see the whole “forest” and bigger picture.
And although my own reading list this month has been varied in terms of content, including some twisty dramas, basic beach reads, and a few literary classics steeped with meaning, significance and symbolism, a great book reflects the complexity of life and being human. Throughout a work of fiction, the characters of are often faced with complicated decisions and it’s interesting to consider how the characters react to a particular circumstance vs how we think we might react in a similar situation. In a lot of the dramas I’ve been reading for example, the authors illustrate the often very complex nature of our relationships and loyalties even when someone has done the unthinkable. Another striking pattern for me throughout the past month has been how so often we are narcissistic in our thinking and actions, casting judgment on others whilst remaining blissfully unaware of our own shortcomings. I need only to read a few of Flannery O’Connor’s short stories before I am overwhelmed by how insidious our own pride and ignorance can be.
And in light of all of this, there is a lot of neurological evidence demonstrating the benefits of reading fiction on the connectivity and function of our brains, including the activation of the “left temporal cortex, an area of the brain associated with language comprehension, as well as in the brain’s central sulcus, which is associated with sensations and movement [implying[ that, perhaps, the act of reading puts the reader in the body of the protagonist.” When this happens, according to Christopher Bergland in Psychology Today, we contribute to the development of our Theory of Mind, “the ability to attribute mental states – beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc. – to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires, and intentions that are different from one’s own” and embodied cognition, probably most commonly associated with sports visualization activities.
Interestingly, and ironically given my recent late night experiences, one of the commonly cited benefits of reading fiction is that many studies show that it helps you to sleep better by disengaging you from the tasks and events of the day!
Given my positive experience over the past few weeks and in light of the many other valuable reasons to read them, I plan to include more stories in my future. A common misconception might be that the benefits of reading fiction are limited to entertainment purposes which is why for me it feels a bit indulgent, a treat, to read novels. But that’s ok, in addition to all the aforementioned perks, it is important to find ways to treat yourself, and if reading fiction is a treat for me, all the better! I’ll be curling up on the couch flanked by puppies, good book in hand and a bowl of coconut yogurt with my newest version of Paleo Granola. Unlike an old version that Jon and I used to buy and love (but is full of many questionable ingredients), this Dark Chocolate Paleo Granola is totally grain-free, dairy-free, and even free from added-sugars. It’s like a treat, but it’s actually good for you! Just like fiction.
- Raw Almonds 1 cup (120 g)
- Hazelnuts .5 cup (60 g)
- Pitted Dates .75 cup (127.5 g)
- Shredded/Desiccated Unsweetened Coconut .5 cup (30 g)
- Raw Cacao Powder .5 cup (65 g)
- Freeze Dried Strawberries (no sweetener or preservatives) .5 cup (45 g)
- Cacao Nibs .25 cup (30 g)
- Unsweetened Coconut Flakes .5 cup (30 g)
- Soak the almonds and hazelnuts in a small bowl with enough water just to cover and the dates the same way in a separate bowl for 1 hour.
- Drain and rinse the nuts. Dry slightly by pressing a paper towel into the mix to remove any excess water and then place into a food processor or high speed blender.
- Drain the dates (saving the water) and add to the food processor or high speed blender - no need to worry too much about some excess moisture with these.
- Pulse the nuts, dates, shredded/desiccated coconut and raw cacao powder until well combined. You will have a thick, coarse meal type of mixture. If needed, add a small of the date water at a time (about 1TBSP) to keep things moving. Try not too add too much to help with the final consistency and crunchiness.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and then spread the granola mix in a thin layer.
- Place in the oven at 250 F/120 C and bake for about 75 minutes. After 75 minutes, turn the oven off, but leave the pan in the oven for another 1 hour.
- Remove the baking sheet and allow the granola to totally cool.
- Pour the strawberries, cacao nibs, and coconut flakes over the granola and mix gently to break up the baked granola.
- Store in an airtight container, keeping dry for up to a week. Eat on it's own, over the yogurt, or with a small bit of almond milk as a "cereal."