I love the feeling that comes when I’ve thought a straight path through a difficult problem and found a solution. I love it when my brain connects all the dots and finally sees things clearly, when pieces are falling together and ideas are springing up and blooming all around me. It’s great to be there. I’d love to be there more often. The trouble is that, for me, this rarified ground of a high-functioning mind is hard to get to. Sometimes, when the day is done, I look at the excellent books I have, many of which I’ve yet to read. I want to know what they say, I want to think about the world and my place in it and how to make tomorrow better than today, but my mind is tired and then somehow I’m on Facebook laughing at a meme and before I know it, it’s past time for bed. How did that happen? Why is it so hard to think?
One reason is obvious: distraction. It takes time and space to dig up deep thoughts, and quiet. Which is a problem, because all of these things are scarce in the modern world. Earbuds, apps, Netflix, news, there’s always something to look at, listen to, or be angry about. There’s always something. The only thing missing? Nothing. Which is just what I need more of: more empty time without distraction, more clear space without noise. More nothing.
Nothing is a good start. But nothing doesn’t fill my mind with useful thoughts any more than parking the car at the gym makes me fit (wouldn’t that be nice). Like physical exercise, thinking is an act of rebellion against the natural slide of atrophy that effects my mind as much as it does my muscles. Like exercise, this requires effort. It requires determination, commitment, and motivation. I need to want to think. Which sounds easy enough, except for the fact that it isn’t.
The reason deep thinking requires time and space is because deep thinking is work. It takes energy to sift through thoughts and put them in some kind of order, spring cleaning the attic at the top of my body, forcing my way through cobwebs and unexpected memorabilia to stay on task. The good news is that quite often I really do enjoy the process, once I get into it. Still, there’s always a part of me that would rather be distracted than climb that ladder into the attic, knowing how untidy things can be up there. And painful.
Sometimes the reason it’s hard to think is because the things I have to think about are hard. I don’t like them. I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t want to admit, even to myself, that they exist. The tangled threads of life don’t always tie up neatly like Disney storylines. Sometimes the world seems more like a mystery with plenty of clues and suspects, but no Sherlock. How do all the pieces fit, and what secrets have I missed? Who is telling me the truth, and what are they leaving out? I’d rather not think about it. It’s easier to snack on mental junk food and forget everything for as long as possible. The problem is that forgetting reality doesn’t make it any less real, and hardly anything in this world improves by being ignored.
Here I am. I’m aware and conscious, and I’ve been given a mind that is capable of taking all of this in, sorting through it, and thinking about what it really means. A mind made for so much more than just the intake of sensory impulses and output of instinctual reactions, moment by moment. A mind designed for more than mere survival or the consumption of entertainment, but to discover and create, to know and relate to others and to its own Creator. A mind that can follow the threads of the past into the future, even into eternity. A mind that can learn, then live in the light of that learning, and keep learning still. Yes, it’s work. It can be hard, sometimes even painful work. But it’s worth it. It’s worth clearing time for, worth saving energy for, worth making priority space for in the regular rhythms of my life.
Nobody said it would be easy, but what a gift it is to be able to think!