When hardships strike, human beings cope by looking for silver linings — for any hidden blessing that might mitigate the hardship.
2020 has been a year of hardships, when many of us have been looking for and finding silver linings — from reconnecting with the essential things in life, to strengthening our relationships, to learning new hobbies, to spending more time in nature, and so on.
Lately, I’ve realized that a major silver lining for me has been having more time to think. Back in March, the shock and novelty of being in a pandemic lockdown was more of a distraction and curiosity. If anything, it gave me more time for fear and anxiety.
But as the weeks and months wore on and I settled into a quarantine routine, I came to appreciate the unexpected bonus of shedding countless hours from my normal commuting and hectic lifestyle: Simply, more time for deep reflection.
But thinking is a double-edged sword. If I think about things that fuel my anxieties, the thinking backfires. If I think about things that fascinate me and challenge me, the thinking helps me grow. That’s the irony: we must think about thinking to make it work for us.
Our pre-COVID-19 lives were not conducive to the fine art of thinking. Rushing from one activity and digital text to another, we were lucky to just take a breather and settle down to Netflix.
The quarantine life delivered to many of us some loose and unstructured time, and we’ve had to figure out how best to fill it. For many, of course, especially parents with young kids at home, the very opposite has happened. They’ve had less free time on their hands.
But for those with the luxury and blessing of extra time, I’d like to suggest devoting some of it to plain, deep thinking. That may look like a surrender to boredom, but not if you value and cultivate the experience.
For those with the luxury and blessing of extra time, I’d like to suggest devoting some of it to plain, deep thinking. That may look like a surrender to boredom, but not if you value and cultivate the experience.
My personal preference is to read interesting essays about current trends and dissect them in my mind. I especially love thinking about ideas and insights I can share with readers. Thinking and writing are intimately connected: Thinking helps me write; writing helps me think.
I find that the deeper I think, the more interesting the ideas get. But I also enjoy thinking about life in general, about the past and future, about the Jewish tradition, about my relationships and putting myself in the shoes of others.
One obstacle to constructive thinking is anger and judgement. If I get upset at something I read or hear because I sharply disagree with it, the thinking gets replaced by raw feelings. That’s fine up to a point, because emotions fuel my passions. But eventually, jumping back into thinking mode is my favorite zone. It’s more than just thinking “positive thoughts.” It’s about staying in reflective mode, when I’m less prone to entering counterproductive places.
The ideal time for deep thought is Shabbat, when we’re unencumbered by the stresses of work. But the act of slowing down our busy and anxious minds and allowing more time for contemplation is beneficial for all days of the week.
Everyone, in their own way, can incorporate deeper thinking into their lives. And that even includes the wonderful art of daydreaming, when we can dream about things like vaccines so that our lives can return to those long freeway commutes.