THE BLOG
06/05/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Brain Waves

I've written here recently about "Happiness and Deep Conversations" and I've been very happily surprised about the conversations that have resulted. I'm getting more emails than I ever would have expected from people saying they once had lots of deep conversations with friends years ago but never have this experience any more. Some are asking for my advice about how to get started again. So, let's continue the conversation.

One of the reasons we don't have deep talks with others like we did in our college or even high school years is that we're not thinking about the bigger and deeper issues of life like we were then. When I was in high school, I'd go out to dinner with friends to a restaurant whose sign over the door declared "Hot Dogs Steamed in Beer." We'd order as many hot dogs as we could possibly eat, get all steamed up, and begin philosophizing about the cosmic mysteries that engulf us all. Then, in our college years especially, we were waking up to all sorts of life concerns and world issues and how they impinged on our lives. I remember my thoughts were often spinning with Big Questions and Deep Insights and I couldn't wait to see a friend to unload all the profound puzzlement on him.

But life these days, for most of us, intervenes. We get busy at work, and running errands outside work, taking care of what's in front of our faces, and we don't have the luxury of pondering within our own hearts. It's no wonder that when we do have a few minutes or even hours with a friend, at dinner, over coffee, or during a jog, all we talk about is the trivia that's been dominating our own minds. It you play the kazoo all day, then even if Eric Clapton walked up and handed you a guitar, there's no guarantee you'd be able to jam.

So the clear preparation for more deep conversations is just to have more deep thoughts. Not 50 fathoms or 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea deep, but at least scratching the surface of life, to see what's a bit under it.

Let's face it: All our attention spans have shrunk. And it's unlikely that, in the quiet of your normal morning commute, you'll spontaneously formulate arguments for or against the existence of God, or on the meaning of life. But fortunately, you don't have to become a French Existentialist or even a country music songwriter in order to cultivate thoughts about some of the most important issues of our existence. If you give yourself a little space, a little time, and maybe a scrap of paper to write on, you can follow Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius in asking yourself, "What have I learned today? Or yesterday? Or this week?" And you can come up with some pretty good stuff that might make for a great conversation with a friend, or a spouse, or a child. In fact, if you have a child around, it's almost too easy to talk about important things. Just ask.

My five-year-old granddaughter just brought me a bowl of salad from lettuce we grew in our backyard garden - the first of the year. We talked for a minute about why it's so incredibly good. We got cosmic. And no hot dogs were needed.

I'm very lucky to ponder naturally. I have attention problems like everyone else. Something new is coming at me every couple of minutes. But I've learned to surf even very short brain waves. Epigrams dance quickly across my neurons on a regular basis. Aphorisms whisper in my ear. Not just those I've read in my study of the great philosophers, but distillations from my own experience of life, like the Emperor's thoughts about his experience each day. Not long ago, I realized I wanted to write down some of these little ephemeral nuggets of thought that pop into my head and then vanish, so that I could reflect on them more. But: what to do?

My son, who is a filmmaker, introduced me years ago to the elegant little black notebooks, known as moleskins, that he's long carried around to record ideas. This simple predecessor of the PDA, which I've been assured is not actually made from the skins of moles, is available at many bookstores and fine stationary shops (and, yes, there still are such places, and they sell wonderful, quaint things made of paper that you can write on with a pen, a traditional device once widely used for note-taking and communicating offline, as odd as that concept might be). So that was my solution. I now take notes from my own thoughts in a small, black moleskin notebook.

But there are a couple of basic problems with talking to yourself, and taking notes on your own thoughts and then rereading them could be considered a version of this. One problem is that I may not be making any sense. And there are no independent, impartial parties involved to give me feedback on this. What seems significant after a couple of glasses of wine might just be remarkably lame. Another difficulty is that the reactions I tend to get from my notes to myself can easily become rather predictable - "Wow, this is good" and "So true!" and the like. I'm not always my toughest critic. Plus, if I've come upon a thought that seems helpful, and even important for organizing other thoughts, it just sits on the page in the moleskin, unseen by other eyes, and so unavailable to anyone else. One of the great things about having ideas is sharing them so that others can use them, or build on them, or correct them with their own countervailing perspectives, or energize themselves by saying, "That's so lame."

The solution to these problems is simple. Now and then, I may share some of my notes to myself here - unless, of course, you convince me otherwise and help me realize that they're best left between what I somehow can't stop thinking of as the skins of that mole.

So here are a random few today. I hope something strikes a chord:

Not everything is a puzzle to be solved. Some things are wonders to be enjoyed.

Old New England stonewalls were built up one rock at a time, of sundry shapes and sizes. Such is a life.

Uniformity lies deep in nature but is rarely to be seen in a career, or in a life.

Kindness multiplies. Unkindness divides. Let kindness be your guide.

Sometimes, wisdom can speak only to the silence created by profound confusion.

The Phoenix cycle captures many adventures of the soul.

Four challenges: Know yourself. Avoid excess. See clearly. Act wisely.

Each new day is a blank canvas. The paints await us.

We wish for more power than we have, yet never really use all we've got.

Surrender can sometimes, paradoxically, be a great source of power.

Drama does not guarantee importance.

Things look very different on the outside from how they feel on the inside. Envy is often based on error.

A few simple words can break your spirit or make your day. Remember that when you speak.

A hero is anyone who can overcome the gravitational pull of the self to lift someone else up a little higher.

Real friends tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to imagine.

Real friends can be wrong.

In this world, the dance of hope and disappointment never ends.

Strength is multiplied by joy.

Now, I think I may just be ready for a conversation.