sunday life: try a “think week”

This week I had myself a “think week”.

I read in the Wall Street Journal that every six months Microsoft’s Bill Gates extracts himself from his chino-wearing Silicon Valley brethren and heads to a wee cabin on a hill for a “think week”. He removes all distractions and armed with (I’m imagining) a bunch of Enya downloads, some butchers’ paper and coloured textas, nuts out ideas and new directions. I can see it now. Scrawled in big letters and taped to the wall next to the mounted moose head, “Portals? Doorways? Euraka!!! Windows!”.

Yes, yes, I think I need a think week! Oh, how I long to unhinge this little caboose from the great train called life as it hurtles along its rutted tracks. To plonk myself somewhere elevated and view where I’m actually heading. To get perspective. Like you I’m sure, I can get carried along by my daily routines, my endless to-do list, and wish I could press “pause”. Long enough to get my head above the frenzy, have a good hard think and check I’m on the right tracks. Before hurtling off again.

I’m not sure what your thoughts are on signs, but I’ve received a few lately suggesting it’s time I took my own think week. In one week I ran into three people (and signs, you’ll find, often come in threes) who’d taken, or were about to take, time off. Alone. Somewhere of no import to…simply ponder.

Then my laptop carked it. Another sign. The IT dude with the bolt of wood through his ear tells me the hard drive was too cluttered, like it’d become too bamboozled by my multi-downloading and constant toggling between eight screens at a time. It needed to be shut down, wiped and reinstalled.

The irony and synchronicity was too delicious to ignore. I booked a cheap ticket to Bali (warm, easy) and 32 hours later was in Ubud (elevated, spiritual) to reboot my hard drive with …a hearty think.

OK, to the chase. My little think week didn’t go quite as…thought.

Gates had his butcher’s paper. I arrived armed with the earnest travel accoutrements of Those Seeking Perspective – a crisp new journal and a really nice glide-y pen. Well, I stared at that first page. For three days. I got as far as writing, “What I really want out of life” at the top. And then blank.

There were thoughts. A deluge of them. But they were all drearily uninspired, the kind of plan-making, jittery hyper-chatter every over-thinker is subjected to 24/7 (dammit, forgot to water pot-plants; wonder who actually buys a batik toilet roll holder?). Perspective was suffocated under a blanketing of cross-wired synapses.

The thoughts wouldn’t stop. And in the silence of the Balinese jungle they got louder, naggier, drearier. I’m a clusterf*ck of beige thinking, and it’s giving me a headache.

Of course the problem is I think too much in general. Everyone tells me so. It goes like this. I’m rambling about traffic light logic or the evolutionary biological basis for eyebrows on a first date. Silence from across the table. Then, “Sarah, you think too much.” It’s a curse. And I’ve been trying to shake it for years.

But as a seasoned thinker, I probably should’ve known better than to try glean perspective from thinking for a week. Back to the train analogy: it’s like changing tracks without first stopping the train. And to the computer metaphor: before you reboot, the hard drive must be wiped.

So I did what Anyone Seeking Perspective would do under the circumstances (just ask Eat Pray Love’s Elizabeth Gilbert) – I had an ayurvedic cleanse and visited a Shaman. At the end of their treatments both healers prescribed, among other things, thinking less*. I knew they would. These prophets I sought were self-fulfilling.

To stop thinking is impossible. The trick, I’ve found, from 15 years of mediation and yoga (both ayurvedic in origin), is to allow the thinking, but to also create pockets or space between thoughts (again, an ayurvedic technique). It’s in these pockets that inspired perspective spontaneously erupts. Not from pie charts scribbled on butchers paper. But from nowhere. From space. For me they’re shower thoughts and driving-to-work-listening-to-inane-radio thoughts. My favourite kind. They bubble to the surface with pure joy.

So for the rest of my think week I let my thoughts unfurl and created vacant pockets by reading trashy novels poolside. And perspective bubbled forth. Bill Gates’ Think Week is an over-thinker’s holiday.

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