I’ve taken up the habit of walking to the gym rather than driving. Sure it takes more time, time that could be spent working, but without this 15-minute walk I would have no silence in my day, no time to reflect and work out in my mind what’s going on with my work or life or even to ask life’s bigger questions. (Read this: How to Find Yourself)
Without this time in silence where I’m not simply stagnant I’d live my days with my head down, working, without ever stepping back and thinking. I’d be doing, but what I’d be doing wouldn’t be thought out or planned or questioned, it would simply be done.
It seems insignificant, spending 30 minutes a day walking rather than driving, but it’s a necessity.
We’ve Killed Reflection
Last year at this time I was in a small town in Italy called Sorano. It’s a tiny, ancient town nestled atop a canyon that was built more as a defense outpost by the Roman Empire than a cozy place for humans to live. It’s isolated. Without a car you’re stuck there, but being stuck there is a wonderful thing.
I’d start every day with a couple espressos made on an old gas stove with my trusty espresso pot then head out for a hike through the canyon. I’d stick my head into one of the many caves built a few thousand years ago by the Etruscans, continue walking or running until I looped back to the town and got to work on the 500 year old desk that the fella had restored in the wee little home that I was staying in whilst there.
When I walked my phone was left inside, as was my music. I was visiting another continent, and who knows, one that I may never return to. To give my time to technology rather than absorbing this history, these moments, seemed like lunacy.
I worked through a lot on these walks, and on the daily hikes I’d embark on in the north of Italy where I stayed on Lake Como, or walking through the streets of Rome. Sure, I was surrounded by history with churches that have stood for centuries that begged me to ask bigger and more meaningful questions, but it was the act, the walk, the movement and the silence, not necessarily the surroundings that taught me so much.
It was in these ancient cities that I truly came to grips with just how much we’ve killed reflection.
When these cities were built there was only silence. You traveled not by car but on horseback or on foot. The act of getting from one place to another took effort. Your work was done in silence and without distraction – as I write this on a computer with about 10 tabs open all begging me to click them.
In developing wonderful ways to communicate with one another, like the phone or Facebook or Twitter, we’ve removed the conversations with our soul and made nearly every conversation trivial.
When we once wandered from town to town on foot, asking ourselves things like “why am I here?” or “who do I want to be?”, we now check our phones to see how many likes our image has received or look with envy at the lives that others are living.
We are no longer here.
Our lives are no longer about being but about looking elsewhere, to what others are doing or showing others what we’d like to show them we’re doing. (Read this: Why You’re Comparing Yourself to The Wrong Person)
We’ve killed reflection, the daily opportunity to ponder.
[Tweet “The best kind of reflection is not simply sitting and thinking, but thinking while doing. “]
The clarity I received on those walks has yet to be recreated now that I’m home.
Yesterday, as I walked from home to gym and gym to home I pulled out my phone to check my email and all of a sudden I realized that in the run of a day I am no longer alone, I am no longer thinking or reflecting, but living on the terms of something else that isn’t me nor where I should be living. So I shut off my phone, and I walked a different, longer route.
Without Reflection There Is No Learning
We read and we study; we try and we fail. It’s all done to learn lessons, yet the lessons we aim to learn cannot fully be grasped unless we step back and reflect.
The logic is sound; if I’m not working hour after hour I cannot build what I want to build. The problem is that the lessons I need to learn from the work I’m doing and the failures I’m going through cannot be learned as effectively if reflection isn’t the companion of the work.
Great men like Marcus Aurelius and Seneca, Christ, Confucius, and Epictetus, all knew the profound importance of reflection. They saw the value in purposeful work, but without reflection we cannot understand our place in this world; we cannot discover why we are here.
Without reflection we cannot learn. Without reflection we won’t know what questions we should be asking nor what lessons we should be learning.
Reflection seems to have been systematically attacked by innovation. I love innovation, but to get something you must also give something up.
[Tweet “To be connected to everyone you must give up your solitude.”]
This is a barter I am not willing to make, and it’s taken a while to realize just how important our solitude is. And it’s becoming even more apparent how important working in solitude and silence is, and not the kind of work done at a desk but the kind where your hands get dirty and your brow is sweaty.
Reflection is Best Done, Not Thought
The best kind of reflection comes on a walk or a long hike, it’s created as we work in the yard not on the computer.
You have control over your life and you have power over your reaction to everything that happens in your life. You can create time to reflect, understanding its importance, though, is a tough one to explain, hopefully I’ve at least in part managed to do that here.
Though your life may be filled to the brim with responsibilities and work and your kid’s sports, you will not be the man nor the father nor the husband you can potentially be if you don’t allow yourself time every day to reflect.
You will not be the businessman you can potentially be if you do not allow yourself time to reflect.
Work in your yard everyday. Walk when you could drive. Get to the gym when it’s silent and train. Hike.
The more I write the more I see the value in living in rural areas, the access to silence that we don’t have in a city where we’ve been taught that solitude is loneliness when its in solitude that we become most connected with our Maker, with ourselves, where our true inner voice is finally able to be heard.
Reflection, like Lazarus, can be resurrected. It’s on your shoulders to resurrect this lost art and bring it into your life so you can find those answers to the questions you may have not yet asked.
It will take a bit of courage to remove yourself from what has become the norm, but if you’d like to remain relegated to mediocrity and a life that can only be measured in comparison to others, then by all means remain in the norm. If, however, you want clarity, you want greatness, you want happiness, true and deep internal happiness, have the courage to create more reflection time. And do it often.