Post by Chintana Ahlund
“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” ~ Mother Teresa
Today, I taught a Yoga of Writing class. The theme was small things.
In writing practice, we can start off by simply jotting down details from our lives. No sentences. Just jots. Sketching the moment as succinctly and sincerely as we can. This way, our notebooks become a record of our lives as it is; mirroring for us, in a few words, a fresh glimpse of our existence.
Then we can go back to re-read, re-live and re-experience our moments of awareness. We take note of small things that bookmark for us a time when we were alert to grass, pine trees, lizards, clouds and pebbles along the sidewalk.
I shared with the class the following entries from Mary Oliver’s notebooks, as conveyed in her book, Blue Pastures:
“Do you think the wren ever dreams of a better house?”
“Molasses, an orange, fennel seed, anise seed, rye flour, two cakes of yeast.”
“delirious with certainty”
“It’s almost six a.m. The mockingbird is still singing. I’m on my way to the ocean, with the sun, just rising, on my left shoulder, and the moon, like a circle of pale snow, lingering on my right.”
Mary Oliver, for almost thirty years, carried around a small hand sewn notebook in her back pocket. She filled each notebook at random with quick in-the-moment jots that later inspired finished written work. If you think about it, all great poems, novels and memoirs get written in this way – with small moments of inspiration. The process of looking at our lives and loving it happens in the same manner. When we slow down to pay attention to ourselves and to our surroundings, small moments of truth occur.
Natalie Goldberg teaches us to appreciate detail. She suggests keeping a running list of details and topics on the flaps of our notebooks. This way, when we sit to write we don’t dawdle. We go down our list and pick a topic. Then we write for 10 minutes. Go. No crossing out. No excuses.
Jack Kerouac also walked around with a small notebook sketching his environment into quick flashes of poetry.
Here’s an example of one of his haikus:
“Barley soup in Scotland
in November –
See how three simple lines can depict your entire life? Moment to moment. This is how we live. Capturing an instant of our existence can be as simple as jotting down one word or three lines.
Given now a glimpse into the notebooks of two great writers, get out your own notebooks and practice jotting. Keep the writing simple and specific. Go with what first flashes in mind and move on to the next jot.
Starting off small is a good way for us to practice. This way, writing doesn’t become a big deal. We don’t fear the blank page. There’s no pressure to even fill it. Remember, Mary Oliver just filled her notebooks at random. Jack Kerouac experienced real moments of honesty with just three lines. Natalie Goldberg sustains her practice with a list of details.
- Sit comfortably with the eyes closed.
- Slowly breathe in and out through the nose.
- Take five deep breaths.
- Then open your eyes and slowly scan your surroundings.
- Open up your notebook to a random page and quickly jot what you see. Go. Just for 1 minute.
- Then flip to another random page and quickly jot what you hear. Go. 1 minute.
- Flip to another random page and quickly jot a question. Go. 1 minute.
- Flip to another random page and quickly write where you are and what you feel right now. Go. 1 minute.
- Then get up and go for a slow walk. Take along your notebook and pen.
- Walk slowly. Pay equal attention to your footsteps, the clouds, the trees, etc.
- Stop from time to time to jot down whatever comes to mind – a question, a recipe, an observation, a 3-line poem, etc.
Jotting is simplified writing meditation and can easily fit into your schedule. It can lead to jolts of alertness and wonderment. Paying attention to seemingly insignificant things is great practice because the world is a big container for small wonders. This means that there will be countless ways for us to wake up to ourselves.
For inspiration, check out 1000 Awesome Things which is a book and website devoted to the practice of taking note of small things and jotting them down.