Taking Time to Think is Truly a Gift

Thinking of the Big Idea

A benefit of writing a book is that I can legitimately take time to think.

I don’t know many people who feel they can take the time to really think. Do nothing but think. Not just an afternoon or a weekend, but months even.

Like many of you, I had been double/triple timing it for years.  Going back to grad school, starting a family practice and then evolving that practice into CorpTalk, all while bringing up my daughter as part of a larger, active and loving family.

Once I was certain my daughter was set to graduate college and all tuition and living costs had been paid, I pulled the plug. I stopped pursuing business— which is a little scary for any business owner—and started thinking. Really thinking about the things I feel are most important.

So that is precisely the gift I gave to myself this year and the one I wish for each of you: sufficient time to think.

The power of systems thinking

I’ve always been a thinker.

As a kid, like many of you, I would lose myself in thought, often in imaginative ways, but also quizzically, just making sense of my own little view of the world. That’s what kids do, right? We explore and construct the world by making connections and testing what holds.

I am a systems thinker.

I have studied and now educate others about the power of systems thinking:  how to understand and apply the organizing principles of living systems to imagine new possibilities and solve complex problems. My formal education as a systems thinker is rooted in my early training in family therapy as a narrative family therapist, so I specialize in human systems. That is, dynamic, interdependent states of being:  the ways in which we are entwined and evolve as a species.

Believe me, there is plenty to think about here.

Thinking is being and being is feeling

As a society of doers, thinking gets crowded out.

We are rewarded for tangible outcomes linked primarily to profitability. We want to know and target outcomes before we’ve had a chance to engage in more serious minded conversations: to examine the limitations of our thinking, the implications of our actions – to decide if our goals are even worth pursuing.

Thinking is an intangible practice, an art form of sorts. You can’t know in advance what it is going to get you. And the kind of thinking I am talking about takes time. It is a state of being, and it requires mental energy, stamina, focus and a willingness to truly feel.

Priming the pump

So, as part of this year’s “semi sabbatical,” I primed the pump by stepping out of my busy doing, in order to truly think: to just be.

Trust me, it is a very hard thing to accomplish. Lots of things come up when we step out of our daily routines and put aside the day-to-day activities that buffer us from diving deeply into the big questions. And I am not immune to this.

I first needed to wade through some worries. Is this a worthwhile activity or am I just crazy? Will I lose ground in areas I have worked so hard to establish? Will something more meaningful arise or will I be stuck with these uncertain and ambivalent feelings? What is this lump in my throat and why won’t it go away?

Too often, we mistake worrying for thinking and retreat into doing before the benefits of real thinking can unfold. I was determined not to let this happen. Not this time, not now. It had been a while.

I worked through my personal worries one at a time or in small clusters until they evaporated, became seemingly trivial, misplaced, ridiculous, even: the constraint of too small a lens.

Then, of course, the bigger issues surfaced and stayed, and I needed to sit with them and find my way with those, also.

I can’t just worry about global warming, war, water shortages, epidemics, poverty, quality food production, displaced workers and gender, racial and social inequities, access to quality education, and on and on. I want to engage in serious conversations related to serious issues. But first I need to think deeply and differently about these really big, systemic problems without turning away, checking my 401K, chasing a project, checking my e-mail, scanning Facebook or getting distracted by a 24/7 “news” cycle.

When I think about things deeply, I can engage in more serious-minded, imaginative conversations–and take mindful action. And then I become hopeful.

Writing for you

It is precisely because I have taken this time that I feel ready to write the book others have encouraged me to write for so many years.

Only now do I feel ready to distill my learnings into something worthwhile and true to my experience.

Perhaps this is because—finally—I am not writing for an audience. I am writing for myself.

And because, as a systems thinker, I cannot separate myself from those around me, and all things, it is as much your story that I am looking to tell. And it is in precisely this spirit that I am writing for you.

For those of you who have been sending me your stories already, thank you. Please keep them coming!




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2 Responses to “Taking Time to Think is Truly a Gift”

  1. Carroll Scribner says:

    Maria – brilliant and beautiful, as always and ever. We are all anxious to be first in line for your book, which is surely a work of art and love. Can’t wait!!

  2. Karen Vedus says:

    Well, Maria, you know I am so similar…always either had my head in a book or ‘daydreaming’ a pejorative for thinking. Great to see you at the conference!

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