The wandering mind has a mind of its own

by Kristin on May 5, 2010

in Culture, ideas & paradigms

Image by Hatchibombotar

I’ve been in a bit of a writing slump lately. I don’t know if it’s an actual slump or just a perceived one, but I do know that the last couple of times I’ve sat down to write a post, I just haven’t felt inspired.

After making a couple of references to my sad state on Twitter (“how do you know when it’s best to ride the tide of a slump and when to push your way through it?”) a writer friend of mine, Ed Cyzewski, sent me a helpful email which included this:

So my first thought is if you’re giving yourself enough time to rest. And if not that, I wonder if you’re getting either enough time to read and reflect on stuff or if you’re simply getting enough time to let your mind wander.

I knew immediately the answer was “no.” I’m not giving myself enough time to rest, read or reflect. And when it comes to letting my mind wander, HA! I’m always fighting the wandering mind. I hand out mind-jaywalking citations on a regular basis around my house—I have a fourth-grader who can’t walk from the kitchen to the front door without completely forgetting where she is going.

A free-wheeling mind is a dangerous—and necessary—thing

When it comes to my own mind, I pretty much keep it on one of those leashes you see attached to toddlers in airports. It gets little bursts of fake freedom before being abruptly jerked back to a safe reality. As a freelance writer, I have to be disciplined and make deadlines from home—I can’t afford to let my mind have free reign.

At the same time, maybe I can’t afford not to. Sure, I’m stressed and have lots of deadlines and other concerns on my mind,  but I realize that Ed has a point. Most of my favorite blog posts don’t strike me while I’m sitting at the computer. They well up in me as I walk my neighborhood, pull weeds in the garden, or make lunches—in other words, when my body is busy doing something useful and I decide it’s OK to give my working brain an hour off.

Some things just don’t happen on demand

This morning, I woke up determined to ease into my day. Jason, the pup and I walked S to school, then Jason headed for home and I extended my walk. It’s an absolutely beautiful day. I willed myself to give in to it, and let my mind go wherever it pleased.

But have you ever tried to get your mind to wander? It’s about as easy as getting a cat to stay where you tell it to, or telling a toddler not to cry, or willing the heavy clouds not to rain on your picnic.

OK mind, wander! I commanded, as I walked the sun dappled sidewalks. My mind wandered straight to my to-do list sitting back at home on my desk. No, wander away from all that’s purposeful into a world of impracticality and leisure! My brain frantically worked to grasp what that might mean. This might be your only chance today! I implored. I’m giving you permission to do something you always want to do anyway. Now do it! My mind panicked. Freedom? It’s so rare that it’s frightening!

I decided to give up on the forced mind wandering (which, by the way, was NOT what Ed was recommending, I’m pretty sure) and turn to something more useful but equally freeing: I’d talk to God. A prayer with my walk would do me good—it’s another one of those things I need but haven’t been taking the time to sink into in a meaningful way.

I started praying, and guess what? Yep, my mind wandered. Inevitable.

I’m not sure what you would call what was happening in my head as I walked this morning—A wandering prayer? A meditative skip? A schizophrenic ricochet between heaven and earth? Whatever it was, it was a heck of a lot better than rushing my kids off to school and then diving headlong into my Desk-o-Stress.

And hey—I put down a post, one that came pouring out and feels like me.

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  • A

    Kristin — can really relate to this one…. and have a LOT of trouble with letting my mind wander as well without jerking it back to my list of the moment….

  • The Sandwich Life

    Yes. Jimmie Dale Gilmore has a great song called ‘My Mind Has a Mind of It’s Own.’

    My mind has a mind of its own,
    Takes me out a walkin’ when I’d rather stay at home,
    Takes me out to parties when I’d rather be alone,
    Oh my mind has a mind of its own.

  • ed cyzewski

    I like the image of a mind on a leash. I think we speak of things being “unleashed” but we spend less time thinking of what it looks like for a mind to be “leashed.” In the words of the French Peas from Veggie Tales, “Keep walkin’…”

  • E.

    Great post. I think life with small kids can really make it hard to find the time and peace to let your mind wander, and that makes writing really challenging. As much as I might want to command my mind to write because I happen to have 45 minutes to myself, it may well take 42 minutes to allow my mind the space to even begin. This is definitely true when I write poetry, but maybe even moreso when I blog. (Maybe partly b/c of the pressure of having people see it, not having the leisure to take months or years to decide if it’s worthy of exposing to others.) I have that experience all the time of an idea for a post striking when there’s just no time to bring it to fruition. It’s funny how often I’m posting in a hurry because I’m inspired and must steal the time while I’m still in that mode.

  • Blond Girl

    Hi there!
    I found your blog through the blog roll on “Little Blog on the Prairie”. I’m a (recent-ish) transplant from Minneapolis to Champaign. I can’t tell you how happy I am to have found a Christian blogger here in town! I will be back for sure.

    I so understand about the wandering… How often have I wished I could plug a netbook into a port at the back of my head and just go straight to Stream-of-Conscienceness-blogging… Alas, Steve Jobs hasn’t figured that one out yet!

  • Kristin T.

    A, it’s sad that I’ve never really thought about the *value* of mind-wandering moments. I’m sure that says a lot about our culture, as well as my personality. We’re always trying to be so on-task and efficient.

    The Sandwich Life, I’ll definitely have to check out that song! Do you think he’s contrasting head with heart? That’s always a tough balance to achieve.

    ed, that’s an interesting observation, about leashed vs. unleashed. I think you’re right. Leashes hold us back, but they can also keep chaos and danger in check. Ideally, I try to get to a place where I feel lots of freedom within a form—maybe that’s more like a nice big fenced-in yard or pasture?

    E, you’re right, when you have a family to care for it’s even harder to let go and slow down when the opportunity strikes. The trick is to somehow—even if it feels unnatural—give into the space rather than get frantic about the need to start writing (as I often do). I am slowly learning.

  • TJ Hirst

    I’m thinking on this. But not too hard. OK? Because then I would stew on it and then my mind would be captured by that. I’m not sure how to figure out my mind right now. In some ways it needs a leash on everything for the past and the future and freedom to focus on the here and now. But that is a trick to do, becasue that’ isn’t what mine automatically does when it wanders. Still thinking on this.

  • Kristin T.

    Blond Girl, I’m so glad you found your way to my blog, and that you live in my town! I’m sure we will meet in person some time soon. Btw, I’ve often wished I had a firewire port in my head, too—someone has to get on that invention.

    TJ, you’re getting into the spirit of this and thinking—but not too hard. :) I’m trying to do more of that these days, too. Your comment is nudging me into even more complex thoughts around this theme, but that’s OK. I’ll try to balance the focused complexity with spontaneity. Let me know if you figure anything out!