I'm an avid reader but find it difficult to stay present while doing so. Most other activities (except sleeping) I
can maintain awareness from moment to moment. Does anyone else have this problem? I can be so absorbed
in trying to understand a book that it breaks my ability to be mindful. For example 30 minutes can go by
without noticing what I'm engaged in. When I try to be more aware I can't make sense of what I'm reading or
at least I have to slow down considerably. Any guidance here?
Theres nothing wrong with periods of contemplation and study. Its good for a number of reasons. The important thing is to not get attached to study and contemplation that we forget that the goal is awareness and not endless contemplation of subjects. We should also realize that every day and every situation is different in terms of our ability to maintain awareness. Some days will be foggy all day, the only thing we can do is to accept it and be as mindful as possible without any attachment to our relative conditions. Other days will be crystal clear, and we should have no attachment to that as well. Some situations we will maintain awareness throughout with ease, others will instantly destroy our awareness and bring up violent thoughts or emotions. If you are trying to practice from the point of view of Mahamudra or the Great Perfection, these situations are all OK and nothing to worry about. We just keep doing our best without attachment to anything.
The main thing is non attachment. Your true nature doesn't change because you spend some time studying. If this still seems odd to you, think of study as being for the benefit of all sentient beings. The more you know, the more empowered you are to be of benefit. This is true of every kind of knowledge, not just Dharma. Its good to know different things because you can relate to many different people, so you can potentially be of benefit to many more people since they are going to accept you more freely if you share things in common or can relate to them through your knowledge, such as talking to a car enthusiast about cars, or an actor about theater.
Study also helps us understand where we are and what we do and don't know. Some things will make perfect sense, others will not. When it doesn't make sense, we know what we need to contemplate and what we should ask questions about. When it does make sense, we can test our knowledge by also asking questions to see how much our understanding corroborates with Dharma. What we don't want is a situation where we know nothing, are doing everything wrong, and think its all OK. Study is an important support in my opinion.