According to Scott Belsky we should value the “creative pause”. These are moments of scheduled aloneness and a time to woolgather uninterrupted over big questions.
Sacred niches where creative pauses can live are becoming extinct. Who loses? Our imaginations will pay a scary toll for giving up sacred spaces. Then why do we sacrifice this interior life? First, we are plagued by fear when we do and that is why it is nothing new that we have always sought distraction. Connection trumps anxiety. Connection is a Maslovian need. According to Belsky, “It is now possible to always feel loved and cared for, thanks to the efficiency of our “comment walls” on Facebook and seamless connection with everyone we’ve ever known.” He calls this rejection of downtime, “insecurity work”.
The solution for “insecurity work” is a revision of C.S. Forster’s dictum to stay connected, “Always connect, but also re-connect and reclaim your own sacred spaces.” Belsky makes five concrete suggestions to renew our deep thinking landscape.
1. We need to create new “rituals for unplugging”. The Sabbath Manifesto movement is a community of practice that advocates tithing a day to the god of disconnection.
2. We need time to think deeply. Belsky advises that we “carve out a 1-2 hour block every day for taking a walk or grabbing a cup of coffee and just ponder some of those bigger things.”
3. Fifteen minutes to meditate and twenty minutes to nap.
4. Invest in your own awareness. Taking a page from the mindfulness movement we need to acknowledge that connection distracts us from feeling. Admittedly, these feelings are ones we do not want to ‘invest’ in. Anxiety and insecurity are part of the inner landscape and awareness of them might be the first step toward mending them.
5. Protect the state of no-intent. The relentless pursuit of connection leads us away from the slacking that more often than not leads to the odd re-wirings and re-firings of neurons that ultimately lead to new stuff. An apt word for this might be the old expression “woolgathering” The OED defines ˈwool-ˌgathering’ as “the action of gathering fragments of wool torn from sheep by bushes.” Figuratively, it is the embodiment of a mind engaged in this state of no or very low intent.
What draws me to this article so powerfully is the realization that I while I have contributed to this headlong crash into distraction I can also hasten my students toward the brambles to gather wool and an occasional blackberry and a chigger or tick, too. Technology knits us together in ways more thorough than even imagined in John Stuart Mills’ panopticon, but (and I know I am mixing my metaphors here) its keen edge just as surely cuts us off from primordial and profound inner connections. Therefore, my new duty is to control this inner Babbitt and cease this blind optimistic boosterism of all tech that connects. It has a dark side. It represses just as sure as it uplifts. It needs to be put in its place. That is my duty, too. I need to show my learners, students and teachers alike, how to gather wool.
To that end here are some of my own ideas. I hope you will add to them here or drop me a letter at Terry Elliott, Blue Mailbox, 42765. Don’t worry it will get there.
1. Have lunch with students.
2. Declare one school day a tech Sabbath.
5. Make “no net” assignments that only rely on personal reflection and deep thinking.
6. Demand quiet and conspicuous woolgathering as a legitimate part of class. There must be no intent to this, but if some interesting carp surfaces, then let it be a moment of both personal and community discovery.
7. Breathe with students and remind them to breathe.
8. Ask what it was like to live without the net.
9. Imagine and re-imagine what we have seen, felt, heard, spoken, thought, and experienced. View with our mind’s eye and check out our own inscapes.