Whenever I write a blog post I often re-read it and change it. I continue changing my blogs months after they are supposedly ‘finished’.
This morning I was reading through a month-old blog post that I must have read at least ten times before. This time I found it unclear and verbose, and shortening it made it much better. In fact shortening posts almost always improves them.
I wondered why I hadn’t noticed the wordiness before. Was I only reading with half my mind the other ten times? Had I needed the month so as to distance myself from the post and thus be able to see its flaws? After all, a blog written a month ago somehow feels less ‘mine’ than one written this morning. I feel much less inclined to defend an old blog post and am happier to concede its shortcomings.
I think both of these explanations are partly true. It’s likely that the first ten times that I read the blog my mind wasn’t composed enough to read it properly. If I am not composed then I miss a lot. I hurry through passages without really taking them in and my mind and eyes skate over the surface of things.
It’s the same when I am planning a lesson. Often it takes me an hour to plan a lesson that should really only take ten minutes. I have a mind that is neither calm nor efficient. I don’t concentrate well.
I then thought about Christopher Hitchens, who apparently used to write many of his articles at one sitting and would send his first draft to his editor for publishing without re-writing a thing. And he often did this after an afternoon of boozing! I don’t know how he did it. He must just have had one of those minds.
One of what minds? A mind that is calm and efficient.
Having a calm, composed mind must be a wonderful thing. I’m sure this is what meditation strives for and why it stresses the importance of concentration on just one thing. In the same way that having a calm and composed mind allows you to concentrate better, so the reverse is also true: concentrating on just one thing calms the mind. So I am told.
The kind of ‘distancing’ that allowed me to view my post more objectively after a month had elapsed is perhaps another goal of meditation. Buddhist meditation doesn’t just teach that the person who wrote the blog post last month is not exactly the same person as is reading it now. No, it teaches that there is no person! I ask you, how much more distancing can you get than that!
So if it wasn’t ‘me’ who wrote the blog post a month ago, or ‘me’ who is reading it now, then I can be as objective as I like in my assessment of it. I can read the blog post as though a stranger had written it. And I don’t have to wait a whole month before I can see it in its proper light. The idea of no-self is great! If you can believe in it.
Perhaps the desire for more composure in our lives is also an appeal of religion – apart from all the crucifixions, burning of heretics and communal singing. If you were to take away the idea of heaven from religion I’m sure many of its adherents would lose interest. After all, what is the point of a religion that doesn’t offer to get you into the afterlife?
The idea of death is panic-inducing for most of us and religion’s promise that death is not really death but the beginning of a new and better life has the ability to calm a frightened mind. If you can believe in it.
So if I can convince myself that when I die I will go to heaven, I will feel calmer; and if I can convince myself that I don’t really exist, I will feel calmer still; and if I learn to concentrate on just one thing, then I will feel calmer still still; and if I do all three of these things, will I then be able to write better, quicker blog posts that don’t need re-drafting?
Yes, Grasshopper, I believe you will.