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(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

(c) 2011 Christiana Lambert

Happy Independence Day! But right away, my mind is wandering from that topic as it relates to the United States of America and thinking more about individual independence. Oh, I’ve read David McCullough’s books, John Adams and 1776, and remain absolutely amazed about how our country came to be—and that it came to be at all. The great experiment of trying to create a new country in a new way had so many reasons to fail—and yet it did not. What I noted about the great minds behind our country’s formation was that they were men both of action and of deep thinking. However, I am convinced that living in a time when people spent so much time alone in their own thoughts made it easier for them to come up with the original ideas they used to found this nation together.

That’s why a story on the front page of my newspaper (yes, I still want to hold that paper) grabbed my attention—and shocked me with its lead-in line: “People, and especially men, hate being alone with their thoughts so much that they’d rather be in pain.” (See Rachel Feltman’s article in the Washington Post referencing results from studies, published this week in the journal Science.) Many people would rather receive an electric shock than be alone with their own minds for a mere six to fifteen minutes? Really?

The results of studies on the ability of people to let their minds “wander”—defined as having time to sit and do nothing but think—make me (and others, no doubt) question just how often we as a society are missing out on being able to produce great ideas simply because we don’t let our minds wander nearly enough. Certainly our founding fathers had fewer outside distractions due to distances or lack of lighting and such, but they were also born not so long after people in their families had made a bold choice to leave what they had known to come to live in a place full of uncertainties and undeveloped spaces that encouraged much time alone with their own thoughts.

Between my husband, my daughter, my son, and me—not a one of us understands being bored with our own thoughts. No wonder we so often do not understand other people—nor they us!

True confession here: I find my mind to be fascinating and always have. I grew up in a small town where most of my classmates were bused in to school, so summers and weekends I had a lot of time to myself and yet rarely felt bored. I also had insomnia growing up, though I kept my eyes closed and stayed in bed, trying to fall asleep. In order to pass time, I made up stories for myself.

Years later I became a runner, for a few years running up to thirty-six miles a week, spending most of those six hours a week alone. I’d be rich if I got paid something for every time a person asked me, “What do you think about while running?” or told me how boring running was.

A few years later, a college professor of mine put into words how I felt about boredom. He used to say, “You’re not bored—you’re boring.” While I understand that the physical movement of something like running might not appeal to everyone, I still think the aspect of being alone inside one’s mind should not seem so boring.

Don’t just wait for someone else to fill your minds or–for goodness’ sake–give you physical shocks just to break the boredom. Slow down enough to learn how to listen to yourselves and the real shock might be in discovering that your own thoughts are way more fascinating than you knew.

Oh, people, people. Time spent thinking alone—even when you let your minds ramble on their own—is a great way to gain control of your own lives—and, maybe, a way to make a big difference in the lives of others. That little thought that asks you to pursue it might just be the next great thought for which we have been waiting. Your independent thoughts combined with mine and your neighbors’ thoughts might just lead to the next creative revolution.

Our founding fathers made order from chaos—perhaps by giving up a little order to pursue the chaos of our own minds, we have our best chance to return to being the sort of free-thinking people who created this country and made it great. To wander with wonder–now that’s independence.


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