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A Brand New Notebook - or You Can't Solve an Ant Hill

Aug 19, 2008

I stepped on a giant ant hill last May while bushwhacking in Qualicum Beach. I stepped on a different giant ant hill the May before! Some things are difficult to see simply because they are too big. And these ant hills are big! Three feet in diameter and almost as high! How could I miss it? Well, the ants didn’t miss me. Soon an army of ants were crawling up my leg. It was only then that I realized that I was standing on their house.

I visited those ant hills recently, marveling at the architectural genius it takes to build such a large monument - a sturdy structure of criss crossing tunnels using only what falls to the forest floor.

I wondered what it would be like to step inside and run around. I let my imagination go, and soon it began to feel very familiar. First, it reminded me of racing up and down the halls and stairways of the church as a child, in and out of cloak rooms, closets and primary classroom, escaping out the stain glass bathroom window onto the back stairs of the church. (That was fun.)|

But then the ant hill tunnels reminded me of that particular middle of the night mind. (Not so much fun.) You wake up. It’s quiet. You’re hoping to go back to sleep, so you lay there. You remember something, believe it, and there you go, racing up and down the ant hills tunnels of the mind. Turn left, turn right, up and down, around and around, retracing old routes over and over, encountering dead ends, finding new roads that lead to the same old - same old. All the thoughts and emotions are related. There seems to be no way out of town. The ant hill mind.
Why do we get caught up in the ant hill mind?

Recently a friend from Tibet suggested that we Westerners get hung up on things - and are consequently unhappy - because we don’t know how to just drop it. Drop it. Let it go back to the nothingness from which it arose. Certainly hanging on to things is a universal human trait. But in the West, to suggest that we just drop it almost seems politically incorrect! Aren’t we suppose to burrow in and solve everything? Apparently not.

You can’t solve an ant hill. All you can do is find the exit. Come out into the sunshine and take a deep breath.
This is not to recommend avoiding issues that need to be dealt with. But too often our plates are full with left overs day after day, and our minds are preoccupied with experiences that gave up the ghost long ago.
Which brings us to the clean notebooks of September - the opposite of the ant hill mind.

Getting new notebooks is primarily a ritual for the young. No matter how many blunders took place the year before, how many things we didn’t understand, assignments we missed, tests we mangled, in September, we would get a new notebook.

A new, empty notebook is a wonderful thing! Clean sheets of blank paper. No words. Open pages. Spacious, open, uncharted courses. A new notebook, for the moment, is quiet, with infinite possibilities. No limitations, no history, no judgments, no ruts, no tunnels, no dead ends. It’s like finding the exit out of the ant hill and walking to the beach.

Now and then, the rest of us give ourselves permission to put the old notebooks on the shelf, even if they aren’t finished. To pick up a blank slate, and to begin again.

The new notebook state of mind is something to strive for. The notebook of dawn, the holy instant, the here and now. In the clean new notebook state of mind, forgiveness rules, and even forgetfulness has its place. The empty page welcomes us in peace.|

How do we get from the ant hill race track to new notebook clarity?

Different traditions guide towards the wisdom of exiting the ant hill and coming into the sunlight. The focus on the breath is a powerful ant hill escape strategy - as we can only breath in the present, here and now. Watch the breath - stay with the breath. Sufis, such as Rumi, let the word Bismillah ride on the breath, with each new breath affirming, I begin again in the name of the Highest. Starting over. Many spiritual traditions use mantras or prayers. Let go and let God. An old carpenter used to tell my husband, “Don’t dwell on it.” Whatever it is, let it go.
Steven Covey, author of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says that his son wore a rubber band on his wrist. Whenever he fell into an ant hill, he would snap the rubber band and start over.

Adults deserve new notebooks in September. Even when the old one isn’t finished. We can’t finish yesterday. We can only let it go. Continuing to sort out yesterday, to solve life instead of live it, mangles the new day. But if we can let go of yesterday, then today becomes a brand new notebook.

Please be respectful of the ant hills! But if you are curious, one is mid way down Village Way near Hemsworth; the other is on Rupert near Hollywood Road, Qualicum Beach.

Joanne Sales is a writer and organic blueberry farmer, living in Qualicum Beach. www.joannesales.com