42: A time to think.

- September 3, 2017 -

Lately, in response to something that Bill Hayes once said in an interview with Meet The Writers, my mind has been preoccupied with thoughts of thinking.

In speaking about his late partner — the professor, neurologist, and 15-book author Oliver Sacks — Hayes mentioned that he was always so impressed with the way in which Sacks would prioritize the act of thinking, seeing it as an end in itself rather than simply a means to an end.

“I’d never met anyone like [that] before,” said Hayes. “This was someone who would devote time, every day, to thinking. Thinking as an activity, as something important.”

Even now, I still find myself struck by the simplicity of such a clearly beneficial task. “Thinking as an activity, as something important.” It sounds so obvious, to hear it said like that, though I doubt that its usefulness is obvious to very many of us.

. . .

Inevitably, of course, we’re all constantly thinking, but I don’t know that we devote much time to just thinking. That is, not multitasking and thinking, but thinking without immediately having to do something with the outcome of those thoughts. Thinking without trying to compress those insights into tweets, or take notes, or brainstorm our way out of a problem at work. Just thinking: sitting quietly, perhaps with a cup of coffee or tea, and thinking.

No, more often than not, thinking goes hand-in-hand with doing. Thinking, in other words, is something which enables us to do other things, but it’s rarely considered an activity in itself. We’ll think about how to do something as we’re doing it, or we’ll think about how we might do something in order to start doing it. The methodology is clear: think, then do.

. . .

There are, however, a few exceptions.

Most notably, perhaps, one of the few occasions on which we will just think is when we have a decision of some importance to make. Then, we’ll even devote a great deal of time to thinking in advance of doing — although, in those cases, the act of thinking will usually be laden with connotations of worry and regret, or anxiety about not making the right choice. There will be warnings from concerned parties urging us to think carefully, and, on our end, reassurances that, yes, we will think about it.

And then, of course, there are also those ceaselessly confounding moments before bed when we simply can’t stop thinking, when, like a leaky faucet, our thoughts will keep us up for what feels like hours, and, try as we might, we just won’t be able to turn off the tap.

As I reflect back upon the overflow of thoughts which springs from those late-night moments, though, it occurs to me that maybe this isn’t so unusual a phenomenon as we might typically imagine it to be. After all, given that we devote so little time to thinking as an activity during the day, is it any wonder that our minds should then be so eager to make the most of such a readily available opportunity for uninterrupted use?


Pondering away,
– J


This piece comes from Jana Marie’s newsletter, The Sunday Letters. You can sign up to receive future editions below.