Taking Time to Think Deep Thoughts, Generously

Reading Hamlet’s Blackberry by William Powers brings me back to the same place that listening to David Levy’s talk No Time To Think takes me … to a renewed determination to create expanses of time and space for thinking and feeling and seeing.

At the same time, I am more deeply convinced that our highest priorities should reflect the completely interconnected reality in which all human beings are linked together. We cannot afford to treat anyone as expendable. The intense value present in every human being should be reflected in our efforts to help and heal and share a journey of enlightenment.

At first it seems there is no conflict between the first goal of time in deep focus and flow and the second of deep commitment to healing and connection. Then you try to to both and you are torn between goals that both seem to require all your time. Finally you begin to realize that if you do not have the focus and flow time, you have much less of value to give in the healing and connection time.

You learn the imperative of a life lived between the mountain and multitude.

A perfect example of this is teaching, where to inspire and lead others in their journey of discovery and creation, you have to take the time to prepare, to immerse yourself in deep thought and creative flow, to move through the door that stillness opens.

This discipline is getting rarer, but it is no less necessary for mastery than it used to be. Authors like Cal Newport (in Deep Work) advocate deep focus and flow as a way to move to the top of the food chain, to become part of a dwindling class of innovators that have invested the effort, in quietness, on their own, to become the experts that will still be needed. (While I take strong issue with some of what he writes, I find other parts extremely useful.)

While I acknowledge that high demand mastery requires deep focus, I believe the most compelling argument for extended periods of time to focus and flow is the fact that for us to cultivate what makes us valuable to ourselves and others, we must commit to that discipline. This is true across the spectrum of talents humans inhabit. Selfishness is not about the need to focus and develop, but rather about the goals to which this energy is directed and the generosity with which the process and results are spread around.

For at the end of the day, the blessings we spread around give the clearest picture of what is and is not functioning well in our lives. Experienced as a statement about what we can do, in this very moment, and in the next moment, and the moment after that, this statement is not about judging ourselves or others, but is, rather, an invitation to open to the interconnectedness of everything and the phenomenal power of generosity.

While to many in academia, this article might seem a bit out of place, a bit to touchy feelly, a bit out of touch with academic reality, I believe that quite to the contrary, it is only on the basis of ideas like those stated here, that a deeply innovative, sustainably thriving culture can be built.

So what do I conclude? Is there a resolution to the tension between solitude and flow on the one hand and generosity and connection on the other? Is there not somehow, at least a little bit of a paradox here?

Like all apparent paradoxes the resolution comes when our experience teaches us that distraction free times of deep thought are an extremely important part, but only a part, of an organic, living whole. Then we find that extended periods of time to think and feel and see, deeply, are completed and brought to life by habits of, even an abandonment to, radical generosity