Just a Thought: January 4, 2017
Seeing the forest for the (winter) trees
A fly has been hanging on the screen outside of our front window for a couple of days. Every few hours, it rotates slightly, its little silhouette the same color as the shadowy branches of our bare maple tree behind it.
Right now, as I sit here staring out the window, its head is pointing down and to the right. Earlier, as I sat here staring out the window, its body was perfectly vertical.
Can you tell it's January?
Even if you don't celebrate Christmas, it's hard to avoid getting tangled in the tinseled frenzy. The traffic, the spending, the ear worms, the ear worms, the ear worms ...
Finally, in January, things quiet down. Disappointment? Relief? Your call. Either way, around here, it's a month characterized by limited light and bone-chilling cold, inspiring a seasonal slowdown. A time to pause the stimuli stream and make sense of what we've already taken in.
The writer Natalie Goldberg refers to this as "composting." She emphasizes that the process of turning sensory experience into the fertile soil of understanding takes time.
And time is one thing January's good for. In fact, as a Google search reveals, January is widely correlated with boredom.
Not that there's anything wrong with that.
In the Harvard Business Review, of all places, Peter Bregman calls boredom "a state of mind we should pursue. Once boredom sets in, our minds begin to wander, looking for something exciting, something interesting to land on. And that's where creativity arises."
He redefines "wasted" moments as vital times "in which we, often unconsciously, organize our minds, make sense of our lives, and connect the dots. They're the moments in which we talk to ourselves. And listen."
Bergman warns, "to replace [those moments] with tasks and efficiency is a mistake."
January is the perfect time to evaluate our busying mental habits. Not much is happening, nor should it. We're not hibernators, but we are seasonally-affected, just like all of nature.
We might take a cue from William Carlos Williams' "Winter Trees":
All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.
Williams was a poet and a doctor. A busy guy, no doubt. But he recognized that the trees' wisdom is in knowing when their essential work is done. And then, simply, in resting, during this season that encourages it.
We absorb so much throughout the year, more from outside sources than any of our forebears. Surely, we could use some time to let our minds synthesize experiences into wisdom.
May not look like we're accomplishing much, but it's all in how you measure it.
When the fly turns a millimeter, it's come a long way. When we give our minds space to develop the perspective that helps us respond wisely to coming conflicts – whether in 12th Street traffic or across the globe – we've come a long way, too.
Katie Chriest can be contacted at katie@ErieReader.com.