Friday, May 20, 2011

Essay: Setting Aside Time for Reflection

Source: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

I'll open with this comic from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal.

Have you ever gotten inspiration for a story or solution to a problem while bathing? I have. I attribute this to the fact that bathing is more or less an autonomous task that I can focus my conscious thoughts on reflection.

The same goes for various other activities: running, knitting, washing the dishes, scanning photos and documents... It's also not surprising why these activities are suitable for listening to podcasts.

And that's the opportunity cost here. Whenever I'm engaged in a monotonous activity, I usually have two choices: I can listen to my thoughts or someone else's (whether it's a podcast or music with lyrics). When I was a teenager, I was brooding and contemplative, mainly because I had all the time in the world. I didn't have a lot of friends to hang out with (which is a different story altogether) so I typically spent recess and lunch alone. I also didn't listen to the radio so the trip to and from school was spent on introspection.

That eventually changed when I got a portable media player (PMP). Whether it's podcasts or Japanese music, I don't have to spend my solitary moments with my thoughts. Except when bathing. I wouldn't want to wreck my iPod Touch.

It's not just music that keeps us from reflection. It can be engrossing ourselves with work. Or video games. Or media (whether it's television or film). We might drown ourselves in alcohol or drugs. Or simply embrace lethargy and sleep and eat, sleep and eat.

That's not to say reflection is the ultimate form of transcendence. The threat to one's sanity with solitary confinement isn't just the lack of social interaction, but the fact that we have nothing else to do but contemplate. Too much introspection and we might end up focusing on the possibilities and what-ifs instead of the reality at hand. Or we might be seduced by the allure of theorycrafting and imagining events without backing it up with action.

Still, for the most part, I think reflection is an important part of our lives. It can be a scary experience but it also be enlightening. As a communicator--and not just a writer--I think it's important that we be able to articulate our thoughts, opinions, and emotions. Reflection helps us with that. And we need to set aside time for it. It's all too easy to get wrapped up with our other priorities.

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