Thinking about thinking – a metacognitive moment

Thinking.  That’s something that we generallyThinking see as a good thing.  “I’ll have to think about that” is a respected way of responding to a new idea or a new situation.  Used to be that my thinking was directed in a number of ways; I’d think about things related to education and my work, I’d think about things related to how we live on the earth, I’d think about the dynamics among people struggling to find their way.  Of course, added to that is the time spent in thinking about life and what I need – and what my friends and family need … not necessarily in that order – to feel good about each day.  I’ve often been accused of over-thinking (I don’t think I’ll even pause to figure out what that could possibly mean) and I will admit that it’s pretty true that I have a high need to figure things out;  to delve into the whys and the whats of human interactions and his/herstories.  Yes, indeed, although it doesn’t always make me happy I do like to think.

rosie_odonnellReally, it’s even more “in my bones” than that.  I saw Rosie O’Donnell being interviewed recently and she was asked whether or not it was true that it had always been important to her to speak her mind, for better or for worse, and Rosie answered: “Right, no option”.  Some people are just meant to be the ones at the front of the rally and if you’re one of those people then you have to just, sooner or later, accept that one of your tasks here on earth is to speak the truth.  “Speak truth to power” was always my creed working at the Ministry even though it certainly had a cost attached more than once.  Thinking.  Speaking out.  That’s what I do.  No option.

So is having this much time to devote to thinking always a good thing?  Now don’t go jumping all over the word always; I don’t mean it as all of the way or in all ways … I mean it the way we use it in our conversations when ‘always’ really means ‘much of the time’.  I’ll rephrase my question just to avoid this debate:  “Is thinking about things a generally good idea?”  Answer to that is clearly – to me at least – yes.  That brings us to the next question:  “When isn’t thinking about things a good idea?” and this is where it gets much more interesting … I think.

In all of my years as an educator I spent a great deal of time thinking about education.  How could it be better?  What are we missing?  How can we change things?  Clearly this took up most of my thinking-time during the day … and my days at work usually started well before 8 a.m. and went until dinnertime … at least.  Anyone who’s spent time with me knows that my thinking about education was never limited by whether or not it was ‘working hours’; it was on my mind most of the time.  In the midst of a big project (for instance, when I was developing a policy for ESL in our province) I’d awaken with ideas in my head and I’d often still be thinking about (if not talking about) ESL as I drifted into sleep again at night.  Poor David had to live through my constructing much of that policy out loud late at night with him as both audience and commentator.  And so between the projects I was involved in at work, the courses I’d teach at the university, my needs, and those of my family and friends, I’d pretty much fill whatever thinking hours there were.  Of course from time to time there’d be some kind of family/personal crisis that would overtake many of my thinking hours but that was always limited by the immediate needs of the work I was doing; timeframes and deadlines didn’t allow me to spend too much time figuring out things during the day.

Today it seems different.  I’m feeling a lot more reactive as I have less to distract me from thinking about things that are disquieting to me or worry me or make me very unhappy.  Mostly it isn’t where – as we used to say – I’m at.  Mostly I’m fairly content and happy on the earth.  Mostly.  But when something feels really overwhelmedwrong and there’s not so much scheduled into any given day that can’t be put off for another day … well it’s hard not to think so much about how to understand something or what to do about something.  At these times, the challenge often seems to grow larger and more daunting by the hour as the complexity that created the challenge begins to unfold.

Free to think.

Truth is some days it’s truly wonderful and some days it’s brutally painful.  I’m learning to take each day as it comes and just wait and see how it unfolds.  I’m learning that sometimes thinking about things – especially those things that cause my heart to ache – takes me farther away from my own joy.

So I’m going to try to find a way to spend far more of my time thinking about joyful things and being around people who are thoughtful and loving.

I’m going to actively seek inspiration and think of ways I can harness that wonderfully positive energy.

I’m going to  choose – with careful thought – to seek to be with people, and in places, that are gentle and nourishing.

I’ve begun another meditation “course” and am happy to be practicing again; the standing yoga meditation we’re practicing this week is a delightful challenge.  Sometimes I let myself meditate on all the thoughts that pop into my awareness.

Last night I went for a walk along St. Clair Salsa on St Clairwhere the Salsa on St. Clair Street Festival was going full tilt.  I’d planned to take this walk with David but an hour earlier the weather had been very threatening and he didn’t want to risk a downpour but was happy to drive me to the pharmacy.  Choosing to walk on my own so I could do my chore and dance in the street – facing the potential threat of a stormy onslaught –  I headed out on my own.  At first I felt annoyed.  And then – like a true flash of light – it struck me that the air was a perfect temperature and the sound of birds singing surrounded me.  I’d had a lovely day – blueberry pancakes and the newspaper at Grapefruit Moon (best breakfast in the city); a visit to the farmer’s market that’s just started a very short walk from home; a luncheon celebration of the marriage (a few months ago, in Peru)  of a friend’s daughter.  True, I did have a toothache; one of the things I’d do on my walk is pick up the antibiotics my dentist ordered for me.  All in all … at that moment in time … I felt good.  By the time I got home I’d met the owner of a new bead store in the neighbourhood (great, now I can get all those baubles that need repair fixed up), I’d chatted with two police officers – on bicycles – while waiting for a coffee, and I’d bumped into a fabulous pink-and-purple-streaked haired woman who’d been in my Tai Chi class and we hung out together for a while listening to a couple of great salsa bands.

I’ve checked the Taost Tai Chi Centre’s schedule (it’s only 8 or 9 blocks from home too) and I think I’ll start attending again this week; that’s another great meditative exercise.

Hamlet Act 2, Scene 2) said:  for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.

Do you think so?

Meanwhile, while you’re thinking about that,  I came across this fabulous video this morning from Heather Plett at Fumbling for Words; she’s another woman who’s redefining retirement.  It did bring a smile to my face.  Enjoy!

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