Man in the woods in a moment of clarity


When people will not weed their own minds, they are apt to be overrun by nettles.

―Horace Walpole


For me the greatest beauty always lies in the greatest clarity.

―Gotthold Ephraim Lessing

Static. Distraction. White noise.

In the modern world, endless activities and interruptions can divert our minds from what is in front of us and interfere with our clarity.

We check e-mail, text, take phone calls, go to meetings; with so many distractions, uninterrupted time—doing anything—seems like a luxury.

In many workplaces, including mine, people have to block out time on their calendars for work. They actually have to put up defenses around their time so that they’re able to do what they’re paid to do.

Because we are never without a phone or a tablet, we also face work-related pressures on evenings and weekends. What was a job we did five days a week for nine or ten hours a day has become a job we do every waking moment.

How much of this is imposed upon us, and how much is self-imposed? Are there requirements or even expectations that we stay connected at this level, or is the sense of urgency artificial? Although circumstances vary from job to job, the question is still worth asking.

The same is true of our personal lives. We have streaming TV and movies, a never-ending stream of social media, e-books at our fingertips, and just so we never have a contemplative moment, little boxes we carry around with us to keep the stream flowing.

We have to find ways to avoid the streams. Don’t get me wrong; I love modern technology. I love the convenience, the flexibility, and the increased productivity. But we should be intentional about having the the technology work for us, instead of enslaving us.

If we allow ourselves to bounce around like pinballs from social media bumpers to e-mail bumpers to YouTube bumpers, we may never experience moments of clarity, and our fundamental ability to focus on any single thing may suffer. Diversions may escalate to the point that they influence the way our minds work. If we never have the opportunity to live in the moment, we may lose that ability.

Some of us, including me, need periodic distractions. I can only focus for so long before I need to shift gears. My clarity comes in short bursts. I recognized that fact a long time ago and have tried to plan my days with it in mind. Periodically through the day, I’ll listen to music, chat with a friend, take a stroll, or do something else to reboot my brain. Then I can go back to work, refreshed—with renewed clarity.

There was a time when I would rationalize obsessive e-mailing or multitasking as a way of dealing with my short attention span. But I realized that this approach interfered with my ability to keep my head in the moment—to be fully present. Although I still have a short attention span, I am much more intentional about how I deal with it.

Certain practices also help me maintain my clarity. Meditation is a biggie for me, but I also like to look at the stars, notice the sounds around me, and fully experience the weather. In addition to helping me focus on the moment, these practices stem the tide of white noise that is all around me.

Clarity of mind is not just something that makes us more productive. It is also a critical component of a happy and fulfilling life. If we’re constantly swatting the flies around us, we can never enjoy the picnic. We need to quiet the noise and experience serenity even as we go about our daily activities. The more we can fully experience what we do, the more reward we will get from doing it.

Periodically we all need to clear the tables of our minds and lives.

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