My youngest daughter, Kristin, is, in her own words, a doer, not a sitter-stiller. This is, in her mind, why she is not very fond of reading books. She was asking me what the heck we did when we were small and done with school, homework and soccer practice. We didn’t have Internet, computers, cable TV and computer games, so what did we do? Just sit there? Thinking about what a cool world it would be if somebody would hurry up and invent the Internet?
I told her I was hardly never bored. I read a lot of books, I bragged. That was my favorite thing to do. We also played board games. Then we would listen to the radio. Some nights there were music programs and I would sit close to the radio and keep my tape recorder on. When my favorite songs played, I would hit Record.
We talked some about that. She cannot relate to recording cassette tapes. “You guys didn’t have Spotify?”
But then we moved on the her difficulty with reading books. “I just need to be doing stuff instead,” she said. And I have seen that. She is the kind of person who has to do push ups between her math and her science homework, and who needs to go outside and kick the ball before starting to prepare for a test. I told her that it is also a discipline, the same way as she disciplines herself to run intervals. You have to train your brain to concentrate, I said. It seldom comes naturally. Especially nowadays when we are always moving from one story to another on the internet, and rarely able to focus for many minutes at the time. We need to train our concentration muscle the way we train our biceps.
She told me about how they at track & field practices they sometimes do this. “Our coach tells us that we are not allowed to think about anything,” she smiled. “But that is impossible.” So we spent some time talking about what it means to try to think about nothing, and how we can do it. At first we can try to do it for a few seconds. Then a little longer. Soon we will be masters at thinking about nothing.
Of course, thinking about nothing is not thinking about nothing. It is letting go of all the noise that is in our heads and around us all the time. It is quieting our hearts and minds so that we can hear and see what really matters. This is where I believe we find God. This is where I believe he will speak to us.
Tonight I am not thinking about nothing. I am thinking about a million things. Just while writing this, I have been skipping back and forth from my email to the news, to another like on Facebook and then trying to tidy up the kitchen. In my head are the names of people I need to talk to, email, call, meet. There are issues that are difficult to deal with, and there are lots of deadlines approaching. There isn’t really a quiet place anywhere in my crowded head. But I know I need to move away some clutter and find place for some quiet. If not, I will end up like all the athletes who over-train, thinking that the more hours of exercise they can force their body to endure, the better they will become. And then they end up with permanent injuries.