If grad school has taught me anything, it’s that concentrating, really concentrating, is an art form. I venture to say that it’s rare to truly think deeply (by this I mean thinking about one subject for more than a sustained 15 minutes), without your entire body resisting, at first. If you’re a mother of little children, forget about it. You think in 30-second spurts and those spurts are punctuated by crying toddlers, potty training and requests for “cut up peaches but ONLY the hard parts of the peach because the soft parts are slippery and gross, mom”.
By the second course of my graduate program, I was handed an immense reading list, which would normally have lasted me a solid month. This reading list needed to be completed (with robust reflection) in one weeks time, and turned in with a complementary review and research attached. I was (am) out of my element.
While I have no doubt I will successfully complete my MA program (first child, type-A, tigermom RIGHT HERE) and receive my degree, the road I’m traveling, the journey towards more contemplative thinking, certainly has its costs. These costs entail time and energy – what’s forced upon me as a student is prolonged focus on one topic. Generally, this type of focus comes at the exclusion of all else, which is why it happens after my kids are tucked in. This alone has been an exercise in sacrifice – I hate staying up late, need my sleep and get anxious without rest. Even still, this adventure has brought to light my need and desire to not only have deep thoughts but to think deeply about them. I’m learning there is a wide chasm and a huge difference between these two activities. Concentrating takes great practice, is learned and must be adapted to. What began as seeing the benefits of deeply thinking in my grad program became a severe desire to profoundly think about all important areas of my life – my lifelong faith, parenting, education, relationships and emotions.
Society as a whole has a declining attention span (and here is where I could easily link to 25 recent articles confirming this fact, but take my word for it.) We constantly see the over-simplification of just about everything and it’s manifesting in our inability to concentrate on most things, the most drastic of these (in my estimation) is our failing capacity to read. People can’t even sit still long enough to read well-crafted blog posts anymore. Heck, if an IG caption is too long, NOPE. Just keep scrolling.
In all honesty, I could take this post in an entirely link-based direction and provide you with a plethora of data to substantiate the suggestion that people no longer focus, concentrate or deeply think. I’m not going to do that, but I could (I take it back, go order this, this and this book.) It took enrolling in school and having to crank out weekly papers, while also homeschooling my own kids, being a good wife and friend and keeping the house from catching on fire, to show me that my ability to deeply think was disappearing. What upset me more than that simple fact was that I was surprised by it. I’ve become a product of our culture. Last January I deleted my FaceBook and Instagram accounts (of course I kept Twitter. Twitter is the balm for my political-junkie-meets-history-nerd-heart). As a result, for the last seven months, I’ve been retraining my mind to not be distracted. You never know how married you are to a platform/device/lifestyle,until you’re out of it. Once you have no photos to share, it turns out you don’t pull out your phone as much. You are just present and of course I’m not bemoaning all use of social media but I’m not sure people truly understand how deep involved they are – I certainly didn’t.
In the past few years, I have found myself surpressing my ability to “deeply think”, out of self-preservation. Sometimes deep thinking – pondering – can really take you to a place of reflection and awareness. While often beneficial, this can also be painful. Personally, I’ve found it’s easier to stop before you start. Perhaps that’s why many are so resistant to sitting with their thoughts. It’s painful and real and reflective. And who the heck has time for that nonsense?! In the last few months however, I have felt the push to face what is and allow my meditations to swallow me whole. Yes, there is an element of rawness in surrendering to tidal waves of unanticipated notions. All in all, however, it’s been the most gratifying experience I’ve had in some time. Through sitting with my thoughts, the Lord has been able to meet me. Strike that. Through sitting quietly with my thoughts, I’ve allowed and invited the Lord to meet me. He was there all along, I was just too busy and hurried to find Him.
I’m not sure where exactly to end this rumination.
I suppose that’s why I opened this space. So I won’t have to stop – I can just keep sharing. Hopefully growing. Always thinking.
I hope you’ll hang in there with me.