Notice ‘Little Thoughts’ - The Ideas That Start It All

Little thoughts. Ephemeral thoughts. Shower thoughts. Toilet thoughts.

I hope to encourage you of the importance of noticing and deeply engaging with the passing ideas that seem so insignificant, yet are truly life-changing. At the start of this short piece, I will refer to these ideas as ‘little thoughts’, but by the end, I hope to be referring to them in their true nature – ‘catalysts for grandeur’.

The Japanese refer to the writings of little thoughts as ‘Zuihitsu’. An art in which the casual and freewheeling approach inspired the words of Tenth-century writers such as Sei Shonagon – whom Linda Chance describes as a writer casually inviting the reader into their world ‘to sit down… for a long chat’.

But the same art of Zuihitsu, known by many as simple musings of often humorous and not so thought-provoking writers, has also been pronounced as ‘reporting to the heavens the true features of the human story’. In this instant, by Dazai, who was born a samurai in Shinano Province in the year 1680, later retiring from his duty to the Daimyo in order to write as a Confucian scholar.

Despite there being a possible exaggeration on first glance, Dazai is on the correct path with his description of little thoughts. There is something about these little thoughts that touches on ‘god-like’ plains. Your little thoughts, encouraged by the most random of external forces can, if paid attention to, inspire great movement. Even this article was inspired by a passing thought about passing thoughts I had whilst walking quietly along the back streets of Kyoto.

Captured during one of my walks around Kyoto.

In times like these, I simply use the notes app on my phone in order to quickly write these little thoughts down, but when I have time, I convert these thoughts into more fleshed out writings on 6×4 index cards which I then place into a large, sorting box of ideas, quotes and information I have collected over the years.

This process should highlight the extent required to pay close attention to these little thoughts and push them to their full potential. Sei Shonagon also illustrates this when writing of how she ‘was travelling, and had neglected to bring any proper paper along, so I wrote on the purplish-red petal of a lotus flower’.

You need these thoughts, but it is not in your nature to embrace them, let alone notice them to the extent required in order to create art or inspire powerful reality shifts.

Seth Godin elegantly wrote a short few paragraphs in his book, Linchpin, of how ‘The resistance would be happy if all your little brainstorms disappeared because then they wouldn’t represent a threat’.

(This same resistance is something I’ve written about, as I’ve observed that it has the ability to prevent great opportunity and larger-than-life accomplishments and how actors, writers and jazz performers actually use a fluid strategy to combat it).

A deep life strategy you must employ constantly is to notice little thoughts.

Whether as a hip-hop artist who notices a small rhythm from a jazz song playing in the shop they walked into, using Shazam to note the song and later sample it to create a masterful beat for their latest project. Or as a film scriptwriter who sees a subtle interaction between two individuals at the bar, they’re stood at, noting down what they witnessed as they wait for their drink to arrive. Or even as a means for self-discovery, as you notice the small, indistinct emotions and look around to the smells, colours and people creating the overall atmosphere that inspired this emotion to transpire.

All these come to show the power of seemingly insignificant thoughts. Ideas are ephemeral, travelling to and out of the mind in rapid succession. Noticing them is the most important thing you could do for them. Allowing them to be more than simple, passing seeds – giving them the proper nurturing to grow into the great blossoms they so deserve to be.

For these little thoughts really are, catalysts for grandeur.

For those interested in reading more in the art of Zuihistsu, I couldn’t recommend The Columbia Anthology of Japanese Essays enough, edited and translated by the wonderful Steven D. Carter.

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