After posting that lists of many kinds can become vital elements of your commonplace book, I remembered one of my favorite books—JourneyNotes: Writing for Recovery and Spiritual Growth by Richard Solly and Roseann Lloyd. Though out of print, it’s a shining gem. Maybe your local library or used book store has a copy.
JourneyNotes includes a whole chapter about the power of lists. The authors note that even a humble shopping list is a “symbol of a world greater than itself”:
… a summary of what you need, want, or have, or see at a particular moment in time. It’s an overview, a summary of the crucial facts of the state of one aspect of your life. It’s a kind of blueprint that can be a guide to the future.
Richard and Roseann suggest several types of lists as paths to insight and value-driven behavior.
Lists as warm-ups for writing
Dealing with writer’s block? Then make a list of:
- What you would write about if you weren’t feeling blocked
- Your favorite words and phrases
- Images that you find mysterious
- What you’re thinking and feeling at the present moment
- Sensory details—what you’re seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, or tasting right now
- Quotes from a conversation that you’re overhearing (or overheard recently) that could become dialogue between characters in a story
Emergency lists are created to keep you sane during bouts of confusion, fear, anger, or sadness. I describe them as “lifesavers.”
For instance, people who feel lonely can list ways to recognize their isolation. They can also list friends and relatives who are open to calls and visits.
Richard and Roseann remind us that the simple, straightforward nature of a list becomes a lifeline during moments of despair:
When we are in a downward spiral, we forget what we know. We panic, go blank, split, numb out. If we have a list—in a familiar place, like the first page of a journal, or taped by the wall by the phone—we are more likely to catch ourselves before we fall.
Lists for self-discovery
One of my favorite self-discovery lists comes from a wonderful podcast by meditation teacher Jonathan Foust. He offers a list of questions for moving from personal insight to intentional action:
- What are you not willing to pay attention to right now?
- What are you feeling right now?
- What are you not willing to feel?
- Are you willing to be with this?
- What are you most excited about right now?
- What could be great about this?
- What’s not perfect about your life yet?
- What are you willing to do about this?
- What are you no longer willing to do about this?
- How can you resolve this and have a great time doing it?
Lists that work over time
Lists of this kind are spiritual practices. For example, people in recovery from addiction make lists of resentments to release and amends to make. They also write gratitude lists.
In Japan, people in treatment for addiction sometimes do Naikan practice. This is based on listing answers to three questions:
- What have I received from others?
- What have I given to others?
- What troubles and difficulties have I caused others?
Yoshimoto Ishin, creator of Naikan, emphasized the third question. This one helps us overcome our natural self-centeredness and open our heart to other people.
For instance, make a list of the people who were affected when you procrastinated on a task or failed to meet a deadline. Seeing the names in front of you is an inducement to change your behavior in the future.
Enrich your commonplace book with a list of slogans, sayings, and quotations to review on a regular basis.
I’ll end this post with a quotation collected in JourneyNotes, originally circulated among members of a Twelve Step recovery group:
SOME SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF INNER PEACE
Tendency to think and act spontaneously rather than from fears based on past experience.
An unmistakable ability to enjoy each moment.
Loss of interest in judging other people.
Loss of interest in judging self.
Loss of interest in interpreting the actions of others.
Loss of ability to worry. (This is a very serious symptom.)
Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
Frequent attacks of smiling through the eyes from the heart.
Increasing tendency to let things happen rather than make them happen.
Increased susceptibility to love extended by others as well as the uncontrollable urge to extend it.
Warning: If you have all or even most of the above symptoms, please be advised that your condition of PEACE may be so far advanced as not to be curable