My mind is often full. As a writer and professor, days are packed with a constant stream of things to do, places to be, lectures to prepare, papers to correct, stories to write, emails to answer. The printer whirrs, the microwave buzzes, people enter and exit around me. That’s the stuff of life.
I do give myself time to savor moments (nothing like that first sip of mocha in the morning!). I watch birds outside my office window and take walks with my friend and her dog. But in the interest of productivity and efficiency, I don’t always give myself enough headspace—stretches of quiet time to let my mind explore. Even in the car, an ideal place for thinking, I listen to audiobooks. I never want to waste a moment that could be productive.
These past ten days, I was lucky to be chosen to be a graduate assistant at my alma mater, the Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program. My job was to do odd jobs needed for the students and faculty during the residency that kicks off the semester. Something magical happened a few days in. Since I wasn’t a student and didn’t have the worries of a semester looming ahead, I had stumbled upon a chance for quiet solitude. When I didn’t have to be “on,” I could be “off.”
There was no laundry to fold, no dinner to make, no noise (unless I wanted to make it). I didn't have to worry about the needs of my students or my family. It was my choice to be social or retreat to my room. Instead of buzzing around the clutter of thoughts in my head, I could relax and let the ideas come to me.I could be still and open. Instead of being mind full, I could be mindful.
I can’t retreat for 10 day stretches all the time. I have a life to live. But I can give myself permission to carve out times for quiet. I may have to schedule this headspace: perhaps I’ll work at a library or coffee shop once a week to remove myself from household distractions. I’ll have to learn to recognize spontaneous moments for headspace: a long wait at a doctor’s office, for example, might be better spent thinking instead of looking at my phone.
Quiet, mind-wandering moments are productive. In fact, they offer the chance to clear out the clutter in our heads. This leads to a more effective way to deal with the constant stream of new clutter coming in.
And while I love listening to audiobooks in the car, perhaps I’ll sometimes drive without one. Instead of thinking about someone else’s story, I can think of my own.