“Keep a notebook. Travel with it, eat with it, sleep with it. Slap into it every stray thought that flutters up into your brain. Cheap paper is less perishable than gray matter, and lead pencil markings endure longer than memory.” – Jack London
In an age of instant communication, instant answers, instant gratification, the quick answer but not necessarily the correct answer, when time is a commodity and we all suffer from a lack of it, is there a place for slow communication and slow thought? I find myself pondering that sentence from Meet Me at the Museum, about no one reads more than the first couple of lines of an email: “I have found that it is no use to write an email longer than three or four lines, because whoever receives it will not read to the end”. Does anyone else miss the day when we wrote proper letters, with detailed considered thoughts or perhaps miss the time when people actually read the information in front of them, before launching into a new query or demand.
This is the age of the instant, whether it be knowledge, communication or gratification, but there is nothing to stop us from slowing down, the written word is slow communication, whether you are the one doing the writing or the one reading, unless of course it is a text on a digital medium, then like streaming binary code we want only the essential, we skim, mentally rushing on to the next thing, or the other thing we are doing at the same time. We are overstimulated and as a result our attention is divided and distracted. Our ability to concentrate, to contemplate, to reflect and think deeply about things seems to be increasingly compromised by this culture of the instant. I find myself longing for something more. Sometimes just finding time to sit and read, really read, not just skim but to be deeply and fully engaged with a book is a challenge. Digital devices seem to offer an ongoing distraction, you start out checking email and then before you know it you have wasted hours just scrolling through Facebook or Pinterest or whatever time thief you are susceptible to.
In the age of distraction, finding time for contemplation and reflection can be a challenge. I am a life long reader and a life long keeper of journals, but even I find it hard to find the quiet time and solitude necessary for real reflection. Do others struggle with this, I am genuinely interested? Do you keep journals, carry notebooks to scribble down ideas? Do you reflect professionally on your daily tasks and career challenges? Do you do morning pages? I am genuinely quite fascinated by other people’s practice. In recent years there has been a strong push towards “reflective practice” in many professions; teaching, health and even engineering, it always surprises me when students struggle with the demands of reflective practice, which to me is the easiest and one of the most rewarding things you will be asked to do. Reflection and journaling began in high school for me, I guess in the traditional form of the angsty teenage diary but it rapidly progressed into a creative tool and a learning tool, a record of personal history and a means to engage critically and creatively with the world around me. It became very true that I did not really know what I thought about something, whether it was an idea, an event or a relationship, until I reflected and wrote about it.
I love my notebooks/journals, sometimes you just need to keep a notebook handy to scribble down just one word, to trigger a memory or a thought to be developed later in greater detail. Journals are great tools for fostering mindfulness and creativity. I must confess, that recently my journaling routine was disrupted, I used to be able to arrive at work more than an hour early and I would use that time to journal and to read, with the temporary loss of routine, I found myself struggling to find that quite time and I have had to actively work at re-establishing it. Re-establishing that routine has simply bought me happiness and a sense of order to the chaos of the day, a simple thing but value laden.
Below, I have included the slide video we created at work as part of a library display to help promote journaling and reflective practice, (unfortunately the timings on the slides are not great, when I have time I might re-do it). Do you you keep a journal, what is your journal routine?