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New Thoughts

October 13, 2009

As you think about your thinking, consider exercising your mind regularly, training it to look for connections and to think about things beyond the daily necessary ponderings. I recommend some kind of journaling as a way to collect those thoughts. I keep many kinds of journals, including one where I record thoughts I’ve never had before. Sometimes those new thoughts are just things I see and wonder about. Two days ago, I drove by a bus stop and saw a single shoe sitting neatly in front of the bus bench as though its owner had gotten up and walked away without it. It was a dressy black patent leather woman’s flat-heeled shoe with a bow on the front, and I wondered why it was left there. When I stopped the car later, I wrote this observation down, thinking perhaps that I might use it as a creative writing prompt for my students.

Last fall, I was taking a walk, kicking my way through piles of fallen leaves. I wrote on one of the 3×5 cards I carry in my pockets that “the dried leaves look like crabbed little hands, clawing at the sidewalk.” I dated the card so that I know I made this oddservation on November 21, 2008, and when I got home, I put the card into my new thought journal. Creating metaphors and similes and analogies is a mind exercise recommended by many creativity experts. Looking at something and asking yourself what it reminds you of can help build thinking skills (although sometimes it can disgust you—I saw some chocolate-dipped cookies in a bakery recently that looked exactly like small piles of dog poop.)

I encourage you to watch the world and think about what you see. What do you notice? Why? What do you wonder about? What doesn’t make sense to you? What amuses you? What seems connected to something else? One morning I was working on a project, trying to beat the clock and finish up some writing before I had to leave the house. I glanced at the clock and the digital numbers said 9:11. I wrote this poem in my journal (and had to skip my shower in order to make it to a meeting on time!):

Awareness
A New Thought Poem
Wilkins-O’Riley Zinn

9:11.
The clock says 9:11.
Twice a day it calls me
to remembrance
and yet I’ve never thought of this before.

Two times each day the numbers
celebrate
my birth
9:19
and yours
4:15
9:9
9:23
1:4
and how can I have failed to notice,
failed to think of all of you?

What time is it?
I’m asked and I respond
4:15
without ever
thinking of your birth.
Of you.
And now
thought into being
will this noticing soon ritualize
my days?

Such a silly
such a small
thing.
How can I not have had this thought
before?
9:11.
The language of the numbers
reminding me that
I’ve not noticed this or that or
anything
before.

This poem has come to represent my obliviousness to so many things. Even though I noticed this connection between the time and memorable dates, I do not live in this awareness every day.

I have the feeling that I’ve seen everything, but failed to notice the elephants.
• Anton Chekhov

What do you notice? What do you fail to notice?

All genuine learning is active, not passive. It involves the use of the mind, not just the memory. It is a process of discovery, in which the student is the main agent, not the teacher.
• Mortimer J. Adler (1963 )
, The Paideia Proposal

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