Personal Journey Reflection

In Favor of Unstructured Thinking Time

Meditating is really fucking difficult. The way meditation has been explained to me – by therapists, mindfulness apps, and Buddhist monks alike – is emptying one’s mind. Noting thoughts, but not getting attached to them. People admit that it’s a challenge, and yet it’s worthwhile for the benefits. For me, it’s bordering on impossible.

I can hardly keep my body still, let alone my mind, and both seem mandatory for the meditation everyone describes. My brain makes quick, seemingly random connections, like relating oat milk to Texas in 15 seconds flat. (For those curious: Oat milk. “Oat milk is made with water. I wonder how much water is wasted making it. What else probably wastes water? Water parks! What was that water park jingle? ‘We’re going to Schlitterbahn! It’s the hottest coolest time in Texas!’” Texas.) 

That quick connection process seems common with people who are neurodivergent. This term was coined to refer to folks whose brains don’t work in the ways that society defines as normal. Think ADHD, autism spectrum, OCD, traumatic brain injury. While many people have found my ‘random’ connections frustrating, my friends who are also neurodivergent often find it familiar and sometimes even comforting. I’ve also found that neurodivergent folks especially struggle with ’emptying the mind’ meditation. Perhaps the jumping of focus from one topic to another becomes an issue for them as it has been for me.

I’ve never quite given up on finding some way to still and center myself, though. Nonviolent Communication, somatics, Paganism, and mental health spaces all advise something to this effect. Recently, I have found something that works for me. Something that doesn’t quite look spiritual or enlightened. Something mundane.

I make a cup of coffee or tea, head to the backyard with my dog Ajax, and slowly sip on my drink. I listen to the birds, the wind in the trees, the nearby construction, the traffic on the highway. I think my thoughts if I want to, but not with any intensity. I follow them wherever they take me. If I remember a jingle, I sing it out loud. I fidget, talk to my dog, and usually accidentally drip hot tea onto my lap. My time is measured by how long my drink lasts and how much patience Ajax has for me. When the time comes, I head in, rinse my mug, and continue my day. Mundane.

There’s an area of philosophy that is concerned with knowing. Epistemology. You probably remember an important piece of Western epistemology: “I think, therefore I am.” I’m not an epistemological scholar. However, like most people, I’m concerned with things like what I know, what I can know, how I can prove I know things, and how I can teach things to other people. What I’ve found is that I know things that I cannot articulate in words. With my unstructured thinking time, I know definitively that I have learned things – Yet, if asked, I couldn’t articulate what. It’s not that I’ve forgotten, I just don’t have the words. 

I’m not sure if this is a common experience. I know many people sit outside and sip nice drinks. Do they have this calming, centering experience as well? Do they come away with inarticulable knowledge? I ask because I genuinely don’t know. I honestly hope so. Perhaps someone could have told me about ‘a cup of tea on the back porch’ meditation sooner. Maybe I can be the one to pass it on to you.

In the six weeks, frequent unstructured thinking time has helped me combat overwhelm and connect with my purpose more than any yoga class or meditation retreat. It requires no gongs or cushions unless you want it to. If you haven’t tried it, especially if you’ve struggled with most meditation, I encourage you to do so. Follow your thoughts wherever they take you. It need only last as long as your favorite drink.

3 replies on “In Favor of Unstructured Thinking Time”

I find meditation difficult most of the time I’m thinking that I’m not doing it right which isn’t what you’re meant to do, I’m sure. Sometimes I find guided meditation can be helpful for me but I need to practice it more often. Just having some time to chill out works too, especially with your favourite drink.

[…] Entertaining myself was a skill I had to specifically develop for situations like the one I described. You can practice this by intentionally leaving your book at home or your phone in your pocket while sitting in waiting rooms. To develop this skill, I enjoy taking myself for a drink at a coffee shop and just sipping while I let my mind wander. I considered it a form of mindfulness, and wrote about it in detail on my personal blog. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.