Intentional Living Week One: The Importance of Taking Time To Think

by Christine

"Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason so few engage in it." Henry Ford

Last week I began a series about the art of an Intentional Life. Over the next year, my objective is to share with you the ups and downs of my journey as I developed the skills necessary to think about, design and live an intentional life.  Furthermore I will reveal techniques and practices that will guide you as you act to become more intentional in your life. While the path was not always clear or easy, it has been rewarding. But I didn't know that in the beginning.  

I was working a full time sales position, I was a single parent to a high school senior, I was volunteering as youth leader at my church, I lived 500 miles away from my family and my ex-husband was dying of a terminal disease. On 6 hours sleep a night I was racing from thing-to-thing all the while wondering why I was on the verge of tears when I wasn't in front of a client.  My life was a blur. I just kept saying, I don't know what is wrong with me. Today I look back on that earnest and hardworking woman with a great deal of sympathy and just a little humor. That was when I started to live an intentional life because that is when I said, stop!

I didn't just slow down or cut back, I literally stopped. I needed to take the time to think about my life and why it felt so burdensome. My silent promise declared that every day I would sit quietly for 30 minutes and think. For someone who was already sleep deprived, that was quite a commitment. Each morning, I woke to a silent house, made myself a cup of tea and curled up on the sofa to think. In the beginning it was a bit of a struggle. The Type A personality in me wanted to make a list of the things I needed to do that day or play the what if game. You know the what if game. What if my sales drop? What if Kathryn doesn't get into her college of choice? What if Larry dies before Kathryn graduates from high school? But after a few weeks, the questions I really needed to ask, came to the surface. How did I get here? I don't mean the cosmic, larger than life question but how did I end up on the sofa this morning question. What did I want my life to look like and what was I willing to do to realize my vision? I had always been goal oriented but I started asking whose goals were they? Mine or someone else's goals.

As I learned over time, the cornerstone of living an intentional life is to find the time to think. This is key. The kind of thinking I am describing does not occur when driving a carload of kids to school, when the TV or radio is blaring in the background or when trying to answer a ringing phone every 5 minutes. It is about being still and clearing out the clutter so you can hear your own thoughts. The time is reminiscent of when we were kids and our mom had had enough and would send us to our rooms to "think about what we had done". (This was in the days before kids had a TV and computer in their room.) We would always emerge calmer and more pleasant towards each other. Taking 30 minutes at the beginning of the day was the best solution for me. But it could be any time of the day as long as it is 30 uninterrupted minutes of quiet and solitude. 

Today my Morning 30 has become my most guarded time of the day. After Marty and I started living together, he wanted to get up in the morning to see what I was doing and be with me. Sitting silently was not a goal of his and his routine of answering emails, turning on the TV and grinding coffee contradicted my need for solitude and contemplation. Finally I explained to Marty my goals and asked that he respect my Morning 30. I was pleasantly surprised that he felt I had given him permission to stay in bed another 30 minutes. Confrontation avoided!  As you start down the path of international living, hold fast to the thought, it's about time! Honor it.

Week 1 Assignment: Spend 30 minutes a day in quiet thought.

To get started commit to a time of day that works best for you to spend time in quiet thought. You may find that the ideal time is after everyone has headed off to school or work for the day or maybe the end of day is best after everyone has settled in for the evening. I personally found that the early morning was the optimum time for me because I am a morning person but that may not work for you. This is your time and it must fit within the rhythm of your life. 

Next find a comfortable place in your home; a place you would enjoy spending 30 minutes of uninterrupted time. It could be the family room, the guest bedroom or your kitchen table. You don't want a space that beckons to be cleaned, rearranged or allows for napping. I found that I needed to be able to sit up straight and have the lights on or I might find myself dozing. 

Be prepared to capture some of your thoughts on paper. Again, I am not talking about creating a to-do list. It is about sorting through all the clutter that swirls around in your mind so that you can clarify what is important to you. When I started this process, I wrote in journal but today I use a computer. Sometimes I have a conversation with another person, compose a letter addressed to a real or imaginary person or just write down random thoughts. I put a process in place that helped me organize my thoughts in a way that allows me to take action. Writing is an effective tool but I have a friend who draws. When she is trying to quiet her mind she sits quietly and draws. Find what works for you. I will share more over the next couple of weeks about how to effectively use this time but for this week, commit to a time, find your space and start the process.

Two additional notes. If 30 minutes seems a like daunting commitment to you, start out with 15 minutes. We live in a time when constant motion and stimuli is the order of the day so that sitting quietly for 30 minutes may seem like an eternity. Nowadays I enjoy sitting quietly in my home for 30 or more uninterrupted minutes but I do remember how antsy I felt when I started this process. Start out slow and build up your time if needed.  

As for other family members or friends. This process is a solitary journey and others may be curious as to what you are doing. Just the action of you sitting quietly may unnerve those close to you. You may find a little explanation is needed to reassure key people in your life that you aren't plotting the takeover of the free world and get the support you need to work your process. I would encourage you to resist the urge to over explain. With young children I would say something like, "Mommy just needs a little quiet time." while with older kids and significant others it could be more along the lines, "I feel calmer and more in control if I spend a few minutes each day in quiet thought." I smile at this statement because Marty says it makes him nervous when I am "thinking" because he doesn't know what is going on in my mind. He has learned over time that my Morning 30 is not a time for thinking up things for him to do. 

Finally, enjoy this journey of exploration. You are giving yourself permission to take the time to learn what is important to you at this stage of life. Once you clarify your vision; it becomes easier to achieve.


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