I’m extremely grateful to Karen Maezen Miller for writing this short blog post and matter-of-factly stating this:
These days I carry a tiny notepad to the cushion to record passages that arrive when I am going nowhere and doing nothing.
I have struggled mightily over what to do with good ideas — or even merely important to-dos — that arise while I’m meditating.
My instinct has always told me to stop and write them down, or else the ideas will keep distracting me for the rest of the sit. When I’ve done that, it has worked.
Yet some teacherly voice in my head has always said not to do this.
At times I’ve felt like I should let them pass, because that’s what meditators are Supposed™ to do, and no matter how beautiful or important the thought is, it’s an opportunity to practice non-attachment by letting it disappear, possibly never to return.
My sense of loss over some of those ideas has been great, though. In a few cases, I’ve sensed it would be too great, so I’ve written them down. For example, the idea to create this website came to me in the middle of a retreat. I “broke” the silence of the retreat to sneak off and write it down, and I’m quite glad I did.
But apparently I’ve fretted about this problem needlessly. Karen Maezen Miller has an authoritative source saying it’s okay:
Yasutani Roshi said as much in the seminal Three Pillars of Zen: “There comes a point in your sitting when insights will flash into your mind. If you don’t jot down things that you want to remember, this could bother you and interfere with your concentration. You may want to keep a pencil and notebook next to you.”
Yes. That’s exactly why I think it’s the right call for me. Maybe this isn’t true for everyone, but I know when a really good one comes to me during meditation, no more meditation will get done until the idea is safely recorded.