”I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now”

To be mindful of the present moment at the present moment, not to remember later is the tag line for all Field Notes Brand pocket notebooks. I use them often, and give them as small gifts to friends, especially on the student farm. They are patterned after the great American agricultural notebooks farmers worked with each day and kept in their jeans or bib overall pockets.

I bet most people think of the exercise of “writing something down on paper” as insurance against forgetting. In a way, it certainly is. But, it is can be more of bringing us back to what is happening now. I can certainly pull my Field Notes out of my pocket to look up that thing my friend said to me today, or my note to myself how many Jimmy Nardello peppers I picked today and whether I remembered to put them in the cooler. More often than not, if I write down something important enough to remember now, I do remember it later without getting out the notebook and paging until I find the exact thing.

Pulling it from my pocket. Writing in longhand with a scratch pencil or pen, on paper, usually not on a level writing surface. Putting it back in my pocket. It all makes me pay attention. It’s a lot more work usually than snapping a picture on my smartphone.

In this way, writing stuff down in my pocket Field Notes brings me to mindfulness. It is not about preventing forgetting – later.CBFF4093-AD48-4C4B-8EFD-8732029A09AF

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Rush Hour, Anxiety and Meditation

Rush

I listened to a short dharma talk before starting meditation one morning. Our teacher was speaking about how meditation could relieve chronic anxiety.

The teacher described a morning routine of leaving home with our mental to-do and worry list already being rehearsed over and over in our thoughts. From the sidewalk, we could can the rush hour traffic jam building. We get in the car. Join the line up. Progress comes to a full stop. Ahead we see the flashing lights of emergency vehicles, drivers are hitting their car horns hard. Children are firmly strapped in their car seats before arriving a pre-school. Mom’s are on the smartphones saying they will be late. In the other lane, a tow truck is pulling a stalled, damaged vehicle.

The day has only started and we are already feeling the tightness in the chest that is anxiety itself.

Our meditation teacher suggested a different approach. The race of thoughts in our minds is like this morning driver encountering rush hour. And the anxiety from all these conflicting thoughts:

1. I’m getting old.
2. My muscles are stiff.
3. I can’t cross my legs like all the other meditation students.
4. How am I going to meditate and still get to work on time?
5. I need to login, check my bank balance, and pay bills.
6. I wonder what she meant last night in reply to my question when she said, “Maybe”.
7. What will my doctor find in my annual exam later today?
8. I need to stop coming here to meditation, and tackle all these issues first thing in the morning.
9. Fast, so I can be at peace the rest of the day.

Except for number 5 in my list, none of these thoughts, and the resulting anxiety could be stopped by leaping into action.

So the alternate approach my teacher suggested was to sit “metaphorically” on the side of the road filled with all this rush hour traffic of worries and to-dos. Close my eyes. Breathe. Just count the breaths. As the to do and worries scroll in my mind, I should just note them and move on and return to just breathing.

Pretty soon, the traffic starts to clear and when I choose to rise, just maybe I might start my day with some peace.