One good thing about being sick is it makes you slow down. I’ve been battling this bug for almost a week now and in that time I haven’t had my usual gusto, my usual push to “get something done; now!” I’ve had to relax. I’m not always as good at that as I could be.
Slowing down leads to intellectual exercise. Reading is one of my favorite intellectual exercises, but in my regular hustle-and-bustle mode I skim more than I read. I get the gist. I don’t digest. It feeds the beast but it hardly nourishes the soul. I’ve had more time to digest what I read this week.
Another favorite intellectual exercise of mine is to simply reflect. To sit, or lie, in a quiet place and sort through the mountains of data moving through my head. It’s shocking the amount of input we have to assimilate as human beings in the modern world. We become natural compartmentalizers, sifting through the information and storing it in places like “look at later,” “trash,” or “will I need this on the test?” It’s boggling. Meditation is a fantastic way to process it all. Our brains are natural servers and given a little bit of time and a moment away the mind can sort it all out on its own. I think that’s why a lot of folks like hiking in the woods; it’s a natural break from all these inputs.
But here’s what happens to me when I’m “away”:
I’m a natural thinker. I suppose we all are. My mind is always processing this stuff and storing it in that “look at later” folder. Most of the time, that’s the last I see that stuff. I have ideas. I have thoughts I could turn into potentialities, turn into intellectual exercises, turn into blog posts, game ideas and hours-long discourses at local watering holes. I have ideas I could turn into money. But in the cacophony of modern life I tend to pass up more ideas than I use. Who’s got the time to make money?
But in these quiet times, when I’m too sick to run around, too ill to hustle, and too tired to care, the ideas come faster. The ideas get better. The brain works harder on compartmentalizing and it finds a way to make sense of the cacophony. I begin to think I could do something really great, really soon.
But I’m terrible at writing stuff down.
I know, that’s funny, huh?
The kid who won’t shut up, this list person that I am, who likes nothing better than to take his half-baked ideas and blurt them out to the world on social media or a personal blog is terrible at writing things down.
“That’s a great idea, Tom,” Tom will say, “You have to write that down when you get home!”
By the time I get home – or to work, or back from the bathroom, or out of the shower – a dozen new things have confronted me. Another text. A golden dog. Dinner plans. A cold beer. A moment of procrastination leads to a hundred more distractions. I’m a terribly unfocused man.
I’m the first to point out my strengths and the first to point out my flaws. I’m a great thinking man. I do it as well as anyone I know. I’m terrible at applying thought to constructive activity. Maybe worse than anyone I know.
I’ll record that transgression, assimilate the data, promise to get better, and store it all in the “look at later” folder. I enjoy the process of thought far better than the application of thought, anyway.
All week long the mornings have felt better than the afternoons, but yesterday morning was particularly bad. By evening, I was wrecked. At bedtime I took some sleepy medicine, it wired me, and I spent the entire night thinking in silence. It was awesome. I had some really good ideas. I was going to spring up and write them all down this morning.
I did this instead.
What can I say? I never even used to do this. I suppose if I live to be a hundred years old, and if my mind stays intact, I might just evolve into the sort of person that takes all these neat ideas, packs ’em between his mitts, and hurls ’em at the world like snowballs. Maybe.
But I’m starting to feel better, I think. I’m starting to get restive. Pretty soon there’s going to be something to get done. Pretty soon it will need to be done “now.” My gusto will return. My hustle-and-bustle will be on. In that world, Tom will go back to being Tom and all these ideas will be shelved.
I guess that’s for the best.
Life’s too short to spend all of it thinking. 😉