It’s early morning. Around 5:30am. I get up, shower and go outside and the air is damp, foggy, and I can’t see the Santa Monica mountains that are usually lit-up, golden brown and sandy green. The end of summer is in the air and even though there will be more days of heat, the change in the weather is palpable. A sweet tinge of melancholy.
Aki, our Boston Terrier, accompanies me as I head towards the orange-tiled, round table that sits out by a grove of bamboo. Orange cushions on welded-steel orange chairs. I sit on my usual one. The dark-skinned oaks are gray washes, ghost-like in the mist. I take out my ancient iPhone 7 plus (I’m waiting for the next release before I upgrade, rumored to be in September) and click on the Headspace app. I take a series of deep breathes and listen to Andy Puddicombe’s mellifluous British voice as I struggle to contain the random thoughts of my monkey mind as it flits between everything from today’s upcoming meetings at work to who would actually win in a battle between Hulk and the Thing (evidently the Hulk, according to Stan Lee, RIP) to visualizing Hernán Cortés’ first meeting with Moctezuma II on November 8, 1519, on the causeway leading into Tenotichtlan (my family and I’d recently visited Mexico, so it was on my mind) to what the heck am I going to write about in this blog.
Thoughts coming and going. And I’m observing them as best I can, bringing my attention back to my breath. Eventually the insanity that is my conscious mind calms down and I am simply in the moment. After meditating, I find that rather than just thoughts that are based on some level on worry and distraction, that a new kind of thinking arises: ideas.
Ideas are intrinsically and qualitatively different than the torrent of noise that usually accompanies our day-to-day. We recognize ideas when they appear because they focus our attention. The usual random assortment of thoughts that dart through our heads throughout the day tend to lead to reaction and a fragmentation of focus: that bill you have to pay; the scratch on the car; the pain in your ankle; that strange look that a co-worker gave you. And to fragment attention further, we are assaulted by emails, texts and phone calls. Then we go further into Pavolvian-dopamine distraction with the help of Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook and Twitter. We all know the drill.
Monkey mind thoughts cause us to be reactive. Ideas allow us to be proactive.
Ideas are plentiful. Good ideas are fragile and elusive. In my experience, it’s almost impossible to develop really good ideas in the office as the environment is geared towards “busyness” and business. Ideas require space and relaxation to arise and develop. Reality and practicalness are the enemies of the good idea. How often have you heard ideas shot down in the conference room or, worse, ridiculed or ignored? No is always easier to say than yes. Good ideas require complete license to actively be ridiculous. The crazier the better. Combinations that should have nothing to do with each other find non judgmental intertwining usually when you are in the shower or taking a walk or about to fall asleep.
Good ideas come when you are not distracted by people or media. Try sitting still and doing nothing, putting away your phone or laptop. You may get bored for a bit but then something happens. Your mind begins to wander and the first wave of thoughts come (the monkey mind) but resist the urge to go deal with the unpaid bill or look at social media. The thoughts will calm down and then ideas start to show up. Keep a pad of paper and pencil handy. Allow yourself to scribble and draw nonsensically -- nothing’s sacred. I’ve found that eventually my mind automatically starts to entertain itself with “what if” scenarios, ranging from “What if I took an improv class to try my hand at stand-up comedy?” to “What if I learned one language a year? Or better yet, what if every year my wife and I spend a year in a country whose language and culture we wanted to master?”
You get the idea.
Now go out and get more ideas. You’ll be surprised how many of them are actually good. And, if you’re lucky, you may even get a great idea.
Books I’ve read/reading:
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Otessa Moshfegh
On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong
Conscious by Annaka Harris