Taking the time to think



It probably won’t surprise anyone that I wish I could do more of what the woman on the couch is doing. I truly treasure the mental and physical space to think about those intractable intangibles that have puzzled philosophers and deep thinkers since the advent of thinking deeply.

Only I don’t know if I can do it anymore. I may have trained myself out of this particular trait in my quest for super productivity. (I do love trying to untangle the Gordian knot of super productivity, but I wouldn’t for half a moment trade it for philosophical pondering).

This weekend presented the perfect conditions for existential pondering: it was cold and rainy; my schedule was open; I had a nasty, achy cold. In the past I would have used this opportunity to do as little as possible—mostly undirected free association with sleeping tossed in for flavor; perhaps some writing if I was feeling especially energetic.

Instead I worked. And I thought about work. And I agonized over work. And I felt guilty about not working. And I added tasks to my work projects.

And when I wasn’t doing that I was reading, or doing Facebook free association (following a link from Facebook, then following a link, then another, ad infinitum), or futzing with this blog and my work blog. I slept, too, but only because I was, actually, sick. When I awoke I had a number of tasks to add to my projects.

In short, I ended up compulsively doing something the whole weekend. I couldn’t just sit still. I couldn’t just think. I certainly couldn’t allow my mind to slip into the semi-conscious alpha state where philosophy resides. The closest I got was forcing myself to spend about an hour looking out the window at the rain falling on the slick street. I watched the drops bead on the green Jetta in our driveway. I saw the clouds thinning and breaking up, the sun slicing through and painting the trees a bright green. I marveled as faces and figures took shape in the crystalline water droplets high above me.

And I thought about the topic and content of this blog. It seems even an hour of nothing, done under duress, produces creative thoughts.

I hope my current inability to not do is not permanent. I believe if I had a few days to truly disconnect and reset my mind that I’d be able to access my innermost existential zeitgeist. (I realize some of my friends are looking for their Super Soakers). I’d like to get the opportunity to do that sooner than later. Retreat, anyone?

How about you? What do you do to balance the doing with the nothing? I’d love to hear if you have ways that work for you. Or are you struggling to maintain the balance like me?


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