Meditation is giving a huge, luscious meadow to a restless cow. The cow might be restless for a while in its huge meadow but at some stage, because there is so much space, the restlessness becomes irrelevant. So the cow eats and eats and eats and relaxes and falls asleep.
~ Chögyam Trungpa, The Myth of Freedom, pp. 48-9
Giving space to our thoughts
At times my mind can feel very small and constricted. I probably wouldn’t acknowledge that at the time, as when I’m in such a space it is too caught up in grumbling about something, being frustrated, impatient, judging (myself or others), to actually notice what it is doing to itself. But when I finally muster some self-awareness, that is what I recognize going on - a small, constricted mind caught up in a thick dust storm of not thinking clearly.
Meditation clears my mind, letting the dust settle and allowing me to see more clearly. As opposed to engaging with dust cloud of grumbles and judgements, I just allow them to be. I give them the space to act out as they choose to, watching their antics. With time and me not engaging with them, they run out of steam and the mind settles.
My Todo Lists
My todo lists have also at times felt like a dust cloud, not allowing me to see what is really going on and needs to be done. For many years I have been caught up in an apparently never ending search of where shall I put them such that I actually act on what I put into them?
Will this app work, maybe that app? Yes, my search for an answer was always in the electronic realm. However, nothing ever really worked for me within that domain. No method appeared to stick. I used an app for a while, find myself getting behind in due dates that I have set - for reasons within and out of my control - and then start feeling the pressure mounting in me to get things done. All I could see in front of me was due dates and nothing else. The dust cloud starts to get stirred up again. I became paralyzed into inaction. What was meant to help has now become a burden.
While this carousel of a search went on I continued to keep a journal. I have kept a journal for almost 30 years now. Not everyday. Sometimes everyday. Just regularly in an irregular way. Often enough that I regard it as a part of my life, and an important part at that.
My journal writing came out of my traveling in my mid-twenties. I just started keeping a diary of my travels, where I had been, what I had seen and then slowly I found myself delving introspectively into my thoughts and feelings as I experienced life on the road.
In the decades since those travels I continue to write, filling notebooks with thoughts, struggles, celebrations, really whatever comes to mind in the moment that I pick up a pen.
I keep an electronic journal as well. I use it if I am on the move and just want to get something out of my head and pen and paper are not available. For the most part though my journal is a notebook and pen.
So the search for a todo list manager continued. Through it all I felt a continued resistance to managing my todos away from the electronic world. I work a lot on my computer, my devices are all synced together, and so managing lists electronically felt clean and minimalistic. Nothing else to carry around. I just had to find that elusive app that would bring my problems to an end and make my life productive.
Back to paper
My wife has managed her todo lists in the most simplest of ways for as long as I can remember - a pad of paper sits in the kitchen and she writes on it as things come up, and then refers to it through her day. The seed of my way out of todo list struggles was right in front of me, but I couldn’t see it.
I think that in the end exhaustion just set in. I had to find a way forward, and then two methods presented themselves to me.
At some point I came across two pen and paper ways of managing your life.
- The first was Patrick Rhone’s Dash/Plush System.
- The second was the Bullet Journal.
My first take was that the Bullet Journal was just too complicated, would take an age to learn and ironically because of that would just be another addition to my todo list. It was relegated to the runner’s up position and I started experimenting with Dash/Plus. However, no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t make it work for me. Something was missing. So I bit the bullet, excuse the pun, and dived into exploring the Bullet Journal.
The Bullet Journal
Fears of over complication couldn’t have been further from the truth. Yes there was a learning curve, but within a short time I was getting into the rhythm of writing down things to do, checking them off as they got done, moving items from here to there à la the Bullet Journal methodology. Journal feels a very apt name for this system. My Bullet Journal felt like a very natural adjunct to my regular journal. My Bullet Journal was keeping track of a part of my life. It was not only helping me move through and manage what I had to do, it also held space for me to go back and see what I had been doing with my life. At times I was even exploring some insights where some activities or decisions had proven challenging.
Creating and holding space
Perhaps most importantly for me is the space that I feel the Bullet Journal holds for me when I enter my todos. Some are urgent, some have dates when they need to be completed, others are just sitting there waiting to be done. It offers a space to download from my head stuff that needs to be done. With my head cleared of the noise of what has to be done, my Bullet Journal then gives me the space to look at…let’s say, my life. If it is not done today, it gets moved on. Perhaps in time it is erased from my todos. I can check back over a day or week to see if there is something that has slipped my mind…or observation.
The space that Bullet Journal creates for my todos allows my mind to relax, not constricting (which it was before) around deadlines and wanting to get items of the list.
The field of my Bullet Journal
Returning to the quote at the top of this piece, my Bullet Journal has become the field into which I can let loose the restless cow which are my todos. The Bullet Journal system gives them a space to rest, and to be moved elsewhere if necessary. But not moved in anxiety. The system allows it and works with the move.
As my todos rest, so do I.