As humans, we think all the time. We think about needing to eat. Or that we need to push the brake pedal if the light is turning red. There are countless more examples of this type – mundane and undirected – that dominate the percentage of our waking thoughts. Now, I’m not saying there is anything inherently wrong with this. We certainly need to eat, and we need to stop our cars at the appropriate time.
However, when was the last time you sat down, calmed your mind, and decided to direct your thoughts toward an idea, issue, or concept you didn’t understand or needed to explore further? As part of my nightly ritual, I used to lie in bed and review my day – my decisions, conversations, places I erred, and moments of success. Somewhere along the way, I became to busy to do this, and I believe I’m worse off for it.
Now, I fill my blank moments with audio books, podcasts, or reading on topics like philosophy, apologetics, theology, economics, nutrition, and more. I listen while I’m walking and lifting weights, and I listen while I’m working. I’ve been a sponge for the last 5 years. And I’ve learned a vast amount about very important subjects.
But something very key has been missing: Original thought. While I haven’t been a parrot, I haven’t been a thinker either. Yes, I have seen things others haven’t, and I’ve made connections between ideas that are new and novel. I’ve also stumbled upon more helpful ways of presenting concepts (though I have a long way to go here). However, something became very apparent to me when I started teaching again last year: I brought very little original thought to the table. I knew certain prominent speakers’ views and voices so well I could choose which one I was going to present as on a given day. But, I didn’t have my voice as one of those options.
I have handicapped myself by not spending time in directed thought. So, I ask again, when was the last time you just sat and pondered an issue and considered an alternate viewpoint?
For me, it was during a recent MRI of my lower back. When I found out that it would take 45 minutes, I told my wife that I would just listen to a podcast. She said, “I don’t know if they have the technology to make that happen.” To which I replied, “they’re going to look INSIDE MY BODY, surely they can hookup my iPhone to the headphones!” Well, it turns out she was right. The MRI operator asked if I would like to listen to the radio. Since my car antenna has gone unreplaced after its theft 4 years ago, I know of no specific radio stations. So, I opted to just lie there in silence (if you can call the loud clanging of the machine silence…).
I spent the entire 45 minutes thinking. Really thinking, in a directed way. And you know what? It felt like 12 minutes. I was shocked! It took me back to those days when I would lie in bed (in actual silence) and review my day and think on the weighty issues I’d encountered recently. I miss those times. So, I’m resolved to get back to them.
Even if I have to add “Shut-up; sit down; think” to my calendar, I’m going to do it. God has gifted us with the most incredible gifts – a brain and a mind. While, I plan on getting into the difference between those in future posts, our mind allows us to achieve what lower life forms cannot: directed, intentional thought.
So, I encourage you: sit down; be quiet; and use your mind. There are so many important issues being discussed in our culture today. The sheer weight of them is overwhelming. However, don’t just be a parrot for your side’s viewpoint. Instead, hold the view in your mind and attack it. Try to poke holes in it. Destroy it. If you can’t, then you should have more confidence in the validity of the view. But, if you start to see cracks, maybe you should spend some more time considering whether or not this is a view you should keep.