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The Lost Art

Thinking is a lost art.

In the movies we see him sitting in his chair at the end of an eventful day. A fire is crackling in the hearth; the rain is drumming on the roof — or perhaps there are snowflakes drifting down to kiss the windowpanes. The house is cavernous and silent as he sits alone, nursing a cup of tea or a glass of scotch, looking at nothing and thinking about the rest.

To sit alone and think, to let the moments stretch long and hear your inner voice fall to silence as it grows quiet and still — we live in a society with so many distractions that it can seem almost impossible, irresponsible even, to indulge in such introspection.

The romantic has his cabin in the forest, or by the lakeside, where only the songbirds and the crickets keep him company. But he is one in a thousand, the stranger pushing one way while the crowd surges another.

Most of us, if asked why we do not spend time in quiet thought, would almost certainly use the word “time” in our answer.

I do not have enough time for reflection.

That is what it all boils down to, is it not? I have too many other obligations; I cannot spare even a few minutes; I am stretched too thin. Our commitments hound us, forcing our eyes to check the clock every few minutes, as if time were a butcher liable to set his thumb on the scale and cheat us of part of our lives.

For some of us, the only time we spend in real quiet is while we sleep. If science were to discover a pill that could erase our need for sleep with no adverse side-effects, how many of us would not take it?

And the world would go mad.

Introspection, reflection, quiet time — whatever you call it, those moments of silence serve as a pause button. Time goes on, the grains slip through the hourglass at the same rate, but the world feels different.

When we stop speaking and start listening, we become aware of what truly makes life worth living, and it becomes easier to forget all the rest. The mistakes we made in the course of the day become less significant; so, too, do our worries of the future. We remember the little things that have made us smile: the kindness of a stranger, the laughter of a child, the way your heart burned when you were reunited with an old friend.

The other things about which you obsessed all day — the deadlines, the projects, the chores — are nothing to you now. They came and went like an autumn shower, and here you are still, almost the same person at the day’s end as you were at its beginning.

Introspection gives us an opportunity to turn our minds from the trivial to the important. Life can become so routine, one task melting right into the next, that a day is only half gone and already we are thinking of tomorrow, so focused on the next bend in the road that we fail to notice the ground beneath our feet and the sky above our heads.

When was the last time you felt the length of an hour?

When you were a child, you had a vision of where your road would lead. You had ideas of who you wanted to be and what you wanted to do. Time has passed. Are you closer to those things? Or have you been heading in another direction entirely, and now you are so far off course that you wonder how you will ever get back on track?

Or, perhaps, you no longer believe in those dreams. You have new ones now. The old ones were childish, impractical. You understand the world better now than you did then.

But are you the person you want to be today, doing the things you want to do today? Or do you have to invent an excuse for why those dreams are not possible just yet, why you have to take care of a few things first?

The sun rises, the sun sets, days come and go, and your life pours away. This is the human experience. We are all marching toward the same cliff, and no matter how we may prepare ourselves for the fall, none of us has wings.

The fall is certain; the final gasp inevitable. But between now and then is a series of choices we call life. You are not bound to the course you were following yesterday. When the sunlight broke through your window this morning, it was a new day. You are not the person you were yesterday — not unless you choose to be. You inherit that person’s choices, the good and the bad, and you must live with those consequences, but you do not have to repeat them.

Own your life. Own your choices and their consequences. Own the dreams you forge and the dreams you shatter, the friendships you build and the friendships you break, the triumph and the disappointment and the heartache and loss and all the little glorious moments of clarity that remind you what it is to be human.

Your life is a gift — not an obligation, not a happenstance, not a mistake. It is yours to live to its fullest.

Find the silence and ask yourself all the questions people do not ask one another. Think about where you have been and where you hope to be. Imagine the most fulfilling life you could ever have, fill that vision with vibrant colors and sharp contrasts, and then shift your feet to the road that leads to that life.

You will never get the moments of your life back. It is up to you to fill them with joy and purpose, because nobody else can do it for you.

As Benjamin Franklin said, “You may delay, but time will not.”

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