Creating Time and Space

Rare is the conversation where one boasts how much free time they have available. It seems to be commonplace, and in some cases a badge of honor, to lament how busy one’s life is. Most of our meetings with friends or co-workers involve the same chat flow. How you are doing, how is the week going, how busy you are, how cherished is that out-of-the-ordinary experience that was outside of work or the daily routine. I can’t think of the last time where someone shared with me a moment of insight they gained from an extended period of quiet thought. Sadly, I don’t have many meditation instructors or lottery winners in my conversation circles.

Someone whom I converse with on a frequent basis is a fellow by the name of Shay Colson. Shay is a cybersecurity engineer for the US Treasury, and has a hectic life. Lots of projects, lots of meetings, and lots of family activities. Recently, he took to his blog to share about his loss of a luxury from the past. Something that was in abundance in earlier days and now is rare. He was talking about opportunities for him to simply think.

…it’s the time and space — and the fact that I don’t just “have” it anymore, but rather need to create it, prevent other things from overtaking it, and preserve it.

I’m in the same boat with him. And I’d wager that we all are adrift with Shay in an ocean of busy, all dog-paddling for a quick visit to the land of peace and quiet before we dive back into life. So where is that oasis of time to think that we all desire? It’s out there, ready for us to visit.

We all need to deliberately set aside time during the day to give attention to our thoughts. This important time must be viewed as sacrosanct. Whether it’s 15 minutes or two hours, this time must not be taken away from our schedule and replaced by another task. Like Shay mentioned in his blog post, we need to prevent other so-called important tasks to taking over our time to just. Simply. Think. Let’s practice this briefly, shall we? I’d like you to ponder this: When did it get to the point where we, as individuals, became lower in priority to our responsibilities at work? Who took that away from us? Take a few minutes to think about this. It’s important. I’ll still be here when your focus returns.

For me, it’s gotten to a point in my life where I purposefully have to schedule a half-hour meeting with myself on a frequent basis. Otherwise the avalanche of things on my plate will overload my thoughts, my actions, and my waking hours. Before I know it, the day has concluded and I’m in bed trying to go to sleep, with a little voice in the back of a arena-sized crowd of thoughts jumping up and down, waving its arms at me and shouting, “Hey Chris! I still need you to pay attention to me!” Unfortunately, when this occurs, I’m mentally shushing this quiet voice as I try to fall asleep. Sad, huh? That little voice, or those little thoughts that come into our minds during the day, need to be given attention. I believe those thoughts are special. They make us better, and they eventually make us happier.

In addition to carving out time for ourselves, we need to create the right environment for us to have a good think:

  • It must not be in your office or where you do your work. That’s where your mind is used to busy activity and stress. Get out of there and find a place that doesn’t scream task task task. Extra credit if you are able to find a place with pleasant scenery and no visual distractions. More focus on your thoughts and what’s going on in your head, less distractions about that awful Inspiration poster print on the conference room wall. When I take time to think, I seek solitude. Superman had a fortress for this purpose, I deserve a place like this, too! No people nearby who could interrupt attention to my thoughts.
  • Have a drink nearby. I believe sipping on something takes away thirst, which will distract your brain from dedicated focus. Alcohol and caffeine alter your mind in different ways, which may prohibit you getting in optimal think mode. Consider cool water with a little bit of lemon, which is also good for cleaning out some toxins in your liver. Double bonus!
  • Avoid music with a recognizable beat. Our minds will eventually synchronize with the tempo, thus taking away dedicated attention to our thoughts. Ambient space music works for me when I need to think. Waves of quiet, non-intrusive soundscapes float in and out of my ears, just like all the thoughts in my brain floating in an out. If you don’t know what kind of ambient music to listen to, consider Brian Eno’s Neroli. It’s been one of my go-to soundtracks for a long time when I need a session of solitude. If you are able to listen to something familiar when you think, your brain may not be paying attention to the music, because it has heard it before.

Just like an art gallery has a curator, our minds deserve to have curation, where thoughts, feelings, and emotions are organized and placed in the spotlight, allowing us to browse and learn from within. We need to be curators of our own minds so that it looks like a place we would want to visit on a regular basis instead of a cluttered closet or attic that we avoid.