I used to think that being a campus minister meant that I would be like the picturesque old man with a big white beard sitting on top of a mountain imparting wisdom to those who could ascend the heights. I thought that once I got to campus all I needed to do was to provide answers to desperate questions that students had. Well, it is nothing like that. In fact, it is more like telling someone they have broccoli stuck in their teeth.
Students do have questions, but they do not know what they are. They have problems, but they do not have the tools to address them. To be an effective campus minister, or any kind of minister, I must help people understand that they do, in fact, have troubles that need to be fixed. Finding answers is easy, asking the right questions is the hard part.
Moleskining is the method that I have adapted over the past few years in order to help students acquire the space and discipline to ask the right questions. I use this method so often now, that I like to call the work I do a “Moleskine Ministry”. It is similar to writing in a journal, but with a few key differences. To Moleskine:
1) Buy a Moleskine journal
Moleskines are expensive, but they are nice. By using a real Moleskine journal, you communicate that taking time to slow down and process is an important thing to do. There is nothing like a blank page, a good pencil and the smell of leather to inspire you to write. (and no, I’m not being payed by Moleskine to say that)
2) Set a timer to 10 minutes
Nothing is worse than starting a project that you know you cannot finish. Opened ended commitments are intimidating. By limiting yourself to 10 minutes, you eliminate unrealistic expectations and fears. It is only 10 minutes, it goes by faster than you think.
3) Set confidentiality
If you are doing this with someone else, remind them that what they write or draw is for their eyes only, unless they choose to share.
3) Represent your thoughts in words AND pictures
One of my friends spent some time as a scribe for a major design firm. To write clear notes and keep up with the fast pace dialogue of a corporate meeting is not easy. I asked her how she did it and if she had any note-taking tips. She said to use as many simple pictures, arrows and symbols as possible. Many of us have been taught to write strait lines and create information in bullet points. Our brains do not think that way and you can go a lot faster if you use a combination of words and pictures. Get creative!
4) Do not pause
There is no need to finish a thought or drawing. Your brain does not usually finish a thought in normal life, so let it go where it wants. The goal is to never stop your pencil from moving. By doing this, you will actually find it easier to let your mind wander to what it finds important.
5) Do not filter
Avoid evaluating what you are writing or drawing. Thoughts like “that’s stupid”, “that’s ugly”, or “I can’t draw” all keep you from consistent writing. Remember, what you write is for you only.
6) Do not get bogged down in details
Super detailed pictures and complicated sentences take too long and will fog your mind. Simplicity is the best. Stick figures and two syllable words get the job done just as good as anything else.
7) Find connections
At first, it might seem like everything you write is random hogwash. Often though, a theme starts to emerge that you may not have seen before. When this happens, draw arrows and lines that connect these thoughts. “Randomness" is key to a good Moleskining session.
8) Optional sharing
If you like, share your page with another person. I often Moleskine at the beginning of my meetings with students... from 1 to 12 people! It often primes the pump for good conversation. If people do not want to share, it still helps everyone collect their thoughts and become more present in the moment.
Moleskining is an exercise in both discernment and acceptance. I constantly talk with students about how to “discern”. Whether it is about who to date, what God’s word says, what their calling is, how to study or what to wear, the theme is always discernment. The problem though, is that once they discern wisdom, it is even harder to accept the answer. Molskining helps with both of these disciplines.
To take notes in a classroom setting, you need to discern which information the teacher gives you is important to remember. While Moleskining, you need to discern which thoughts in your brain need to be acknowledged. To be a good discerner, you beed to have margin in your life. Taking 10 minutes to stop and decompress helps students find that margin. It encourages self-awareness and honesty about their situations.
Ultimately, Moleskining is about acceptance. By writing concerns, dreams and sorrows on paper you realize that you do not have control over your life. Moleskining lets you do something with your questions without trying to control them. Stressers that seem larger than life inside your brain start to shrink when they are on paper.
In the end, Moleskining is a form of prayer. Creating margin to become self-aware, discern truth and accept reality is exactly what we do in prayer. The last step in Moleskining is to let go of the paper and let God take it.