I was frenetically bored. My friend and teacher, Steve Anderson, helped me realize this. He said:
"You bounce out of bed at five every morning without an alarm clock. You run around all day, doing all kinds of honorable, effective things. You don't watch television, so you aren't wasting any time. You flop in bed at nine or ten in the evening, tired.
"But you don't spend any time in quiet reflection, asking yourself what is truly important to you. Why not?"
How do you recommend I do this, Steve?
"Highly functional people reflect on life every day. They go to a quiet place, where they won't be interrupted. They sit in a cozy chair with a pad of paper in their lap, a pen in their hand. And they ask themselves, 'What do I want to get done today, this week, this month, this year, this life? What is truly important to me?'"
The Hard Question
Weeks passed and I still didn't do this. I found it difficult to tear myself away from the daily to-do list. Sitting in a cozy chair in quiet place seemed too self-indulgent.
So Steve asked the hard question:
"Why can't you sit still in quiet reflection? What are you afraid to learn about yourself?"
I told Steve: "I am afraid that, if I sit alone, in quiet isolation, that — well — there won't be anyone there."
He laughed, kindly. "There will be someone there. I know it. The proof is that there is someone sitting with me right now. You. You will be there."
So I tried again.
More weeks passed and I sat quietly — a few times. I found it very hard. It seemed irresponsible, like playing hookey.
So I tried to cut to the chase by asking Steve, "What does the end state look like? If you describe generally what I'm supposed to accomplish in the cozy chair, I'll just do that."
"You are like the fellow who goes into the back yard to chop wood. You intend to chop and stack a cord of chopped wood. You want me to tell you what a cord of wood looks like, so you can get there. That's not what you need to learn. You aren't living a life so you can end up with a cord of wood. And, anyway, I can't tell you what the cord of chopped wood looks like.
"All I can do is help you fall in love with the chopping."
Still, I Just Can't Do It.
Not Steve's way. I just can't follow Steve's prescription: cozy chair, quiet place, no interruptions, pen and pad in lap.
So Here's What I Do.
Here's what I can — and do — do:
- I have returned to my lifelong practice of Transcendental Meditation. Twice a day.
- Whenever I am on an airplane, I update my page called "What Artie Is Thinking." Here it is: http://tinyurl.com/WhatIAmThinking. Why on an airplane? I don't know. Perhaps it is just frequent enough to be helpful. And just isolated enough to be Steve's cozy chair.
- I walk in the woods. About once a month.
- I write here. To you.
- I drive in silence about half the time.
- I worship. The liturgy asks Big Questions, invoking contemplation and self-awareness.
To make time for this, I avoid all small talk. I avoid talking about other people. This includes optimizing time spent on social media. (Just enough. No more.) No talk radio. (Why have someone else think for you?) If news radio, I listen to only one story — then immediately turn off the radio and think about that story.
Do you sit quietly in reflection? How often? What is your experience?