Paulo Coelho is a unique writer. He does not take or organize notes. He simply lives each experience in the moment, and when he sits down to write, the words simply come to him.
Our minds are incredibly good at gleaning the essence from crucial experiences. We can list out the books that have had the greatest impact on our lives. We remember our best teachers from school and our most inspired moments at work. We also remember surprise parties, delightful vacations and the extraordinary kindness that strangers have shown to us. The good stuff sticks.
But a feeling of scarcity often prevents us from living certain moments to their fullest. When I am in the midst of an inspiring book, I am often a little anxious about how I would remember and internalize its lessons. This stress, conditioned through two decades of an education system steeped in rote learning, gets in the way of enjoying the book. Part of my mental faculty is invested in trying to remember what I read rather than paying attention and immersing myself in the author’s message. Reading the book this way might help me remember a little more, but in the process, I have traded off depth for breadth. On most days of the week, depth beats breath.
The alternative is to immerse one’s self in each learning experience, trusting that we would retain whatever is important. Sure, we could take notes later – recall is an excellent hack for learning something well. But the pressure of making “good” notes ought to not dilute the experience of learning in the moment. That is too dear a price to pay.
It takes courage and a posture of abundance to meet a blank page like Coelho does – abundance that lets us enjoy every meal of our lives rather than stuff ourselves silly when we encounter something good.
Credits: The title of this post is inspired by a Cal Fussman anecdote featuring Harry Crews