My friend has taken up meditation. Like all new converts, she’s an enthusiastic promoter of her new practice. She talked to me of the benefits of a calm mind – more focus, better time management, clearer thinking, higher productivity. All attributes I would like to acquire, so I signed up for the ten free on-line sessions and then she gave me another thirty that she’d earned. I regret to say, I’m a failure at meditation. As I sit here with my feet flat on the floor, my hands resting on my thighs, my eyes closed and the soothing voice of the leader tells me to focus on my breathing and let my mind empty itself, all I can think of is the million other things I should be doing.
I try opening my eyes and I can see dust. I avert my eyes and see my notebook lying open on the desk, accusing me of wasting time. I close my eyes and take a deep, cleansing breath. A car door slams and I remember that I need to run to the grocery store. The cat walks by and demands that I pick her up and pet her. Now, a cat’s purr is very soothing but I’m working a knot out of her fur, not meditating.
After a couple of weeks of failed meditation sessions, I’ve decided the practice is not for me.
I clear my mind by writing it down. If I can’t sleep at night, I get up and write down the matters that are keeping me awake. Then I go back to bed and drop off immediately, knowing that the problems are noted on a piece of paper and will be waiting for me in the morning. I don’t need to keep running them through my mind during the hours of darkness. When I’m stuck with a story problem, I write a list of possible actions and the outcomes of each. Then I can easily determine where the story should go from here. When I’m preparing for a big dinner party, I write down all the little things that must be accomplished before the guests arrive. Once an item is on paper, I can get on with the job and not keep stopping to remember.
There are many studies to show that taking notes by hand rather than by typing improves students’ performance. This is because “Generative note-taking pertains to “summarizing, paraphrasing, concept mapping,” according to Pam A. Mueller of Princeton University and Daniel M. Oppenheimer of the University of California, Los Angeles. Robert Dugoni advises writers in his workshops to put away the keyboard and make their own, hand-written notes, even though he will provide his own notes at the end of the class.
Even if you’re not a student taking notes in class, there are good reasons to “write it down.
That’s because putting pen to paper stimulates a part of the brain called the reticular Activating System, i.e. the act of writing it down tells the brain to give more importance to the stuff you’re focusing on at the moment
Susan Sontag and Truman Capote and J.K. Rowling, among others, write their first drafts with a pen. Susan Wiggs not only writes her first draft longhand, but with a particular pen, and a particular ink.
The act of writing engages motor-skills, memory and more and is a good cognitive exercise for aging boomers who want to keep their minds sharp.
So, thanks, my friend for sharing your joy in meditation, but I’ll give it a pass. Pen to paper, heart to brain, is my preferred method of finding focus, attacking a problem, or clearing the clutter from my mind. For anyone who wants to try the course she recommended, here’s the link. headspace. For everyone else, visit your favourite stationery store and stock up on pens and pencils, notebooks and writing pads, line them up on your desk and enjoy.