Tuesday, May 20, 2014
The Great Escape
In the past few years, on particularly tough parenting days (you know, those days... like when you cleaned human excrement off of everyone and it seemed like your kids started melting down before they even woke up), I used to imagine myself meeting Brad at the front door as he arrived home from work. Only I didn't greet him at the door with a kiss and sparkling clean babies and invite him to sit down to a hot, multi-course dinner. I had my running shoes on and I sprinted past him as fast as I could and was already down the street before anyone could protest. And I would RUN. Fast. But here's the thing: I do love to run, but in this imaginary escape it wasn't the running that I was seeking to soothe my raw emotions and distance me from the feelings of confinement and stress. It was the running away. Don't you ever just want to run away? The present moment seems too hard, too loud, too mundane, too painful, whatever, and your brain starts to whisper, "We've got to get out of here..." And we do. Maybe not physically running away, but we mentally run away all the time. One of the ways we escape without even realizing it is to enter a state of being "lost in thought."
How much of your day do you spend thinking about things OTHER than what is happening in your immediate surroundings in the here and now? Your mind circles or flips through mental pages at random... you dwell on distractions, stresses, possibilities, imagining things that "could be," thinking about other people or worrying... and then worrying some more. Or maybe thinking about something completely pointless like the dream you had three weeks ago or that strange man you saw sitting under that tree at the park. The cycle of being lost in thought may not take you to bad destinations, but it certainly extracts you from the present moment... and then you miss it.
There was a study a few years ago conducted by Harvard psychologists that assessed the correlation between a "wandering mind" and happiness. And guess what they discovered? There seems to be a strong connection. "People spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy."* They conclude that how often your mind wanders is more of an indicator of happiness than the actual activities you are doing. I don't know the mechanism or habits by which we train ourselves to let our minds wander... so much of that creativity and exploration in thought is good... but it's the "escape" component that I think can become detrimental. If you are "lost in thought" you are just that: lost. There is no productivity, no memory-making, no engaging with others or the world around you, no growth, no movement. You are just lost. This could become a colossal waste of time- 47 percent of your waking hours?!
Focusing your thoughts and all the potential you have along with all the potential of each moment is powerful, isn't it? When you can turn and look into someone's eyes and be fully present in that moment, isn't that a gift to the other person? I've been practicing- I need it. I can spend unlimited amounts of time thinking about things other than what's right in front of me because it is an escape... an easy, accessible, effective escape from things that aren't very interesting to me or are stressful. (My iPhone is another adequate escape, but that's another story.) My prayer this week has been for the Holy Spirit to guide my thoughts... to be fully present and focused in those divine moments with my children, and to limit my wandering thoughts and replacing them with wonder at the immediate things God is doing right now... here. With the ability to quiet my wandering mind I hope to gain more depth from studying Scripture and a better ability to listen to God's voice in my life...and to actively explore present moments for their potential. I can imagine Jesus watching the distracted thoughts coursing around my mind and, just like calming the sea, He says, "Peace, be still."
So here's a little "present moment" beauty: