I wrote this thinking about parents, but the more I worked on this essay, the more I realized: Everyone needs a “thinking rock”.
My experience with parents is that they always know best what their child needs. When they come to me with a problem that they are having with their child, the first thing I find out about them is whether they have a good way to think about problems. If they can do this, they will likely be able to find a way through the difficulty, whatever it is.
One of the most important practices we can develop is to learn to think, to acquire a practice of reflection. The capacity to stop what we’re doing, in the midst of a problem, and sort our way through the problem helps to keep us strong.
Think about a time when you had a difficult problem to solve. Most people’s reaction when a problem arises, can often be to rush to “do something about it”. This rush to a solution, without thinking a situation through, can lead to more difficult circumstances later. Everyone knows this situation. Remember a time when you received an email or a phone message that caused you to become angry. You believed you must right away and so you dash off an answer without really thinking. Several hours later, in the middle of another task, you remember something you should have said, or think of a better way to answer. This often happens to me and I get so exasperated with myself.
I learned a way to prevent this, and I learned it from my daughter when she was young. What you need to stop rushing to bad solutions is a “thinking rock”, a literal place where you can go when a problem engages you so quickly and intensely that your first urge is to rush off and “solve” it, without thinking. The spot should be out of the way of your usual hideaways, or in a completely different corner or place in that space.
For example, my daughter had a particular spot in our retaining wall at the front of the house that she called her “thinking rock”. When she was young, I could often find her sitting in this spot, enjoying the hedge around her and the trees above her. I associated this place with her so much that I often looked toward the place when I was thinking of her.
Last year our front yard landscaping was updated and the wall was taken apart. I thought a lot about how much she had used her “thinking rock”. I loved the practice that she had of careful consideration and what emerged from it. Even though she is completely grown, I know she still has a practice of thinking long and deeply. Even though she lives far away, I want there to be good places for her to sit and think when she comes to visit.
My new garden has the best thinking rocks: big slabs of rock that encourage reflection, right in the middle of the garden, tucked behind a hedge and under a maple tree. I find myself drawn to this place and several times, I have placed myself nearby in a lawn chair with a book or notebook. I consider the things on my mind and feel at peace from the problems of the day.
This has been a difficult time for all of us. Many of us are trying to solve problems from home that we are used to solving in our workplaces. Many of us are trying to remember how to learn geography or history or math so that we can help our children. If they could benefit from a specific place to think, don’t you think that, as a parent, you must also keep such a space? You probably need this now more than you ever did.
Quickly, then, without thinking, where is your “thinking rock”?
If you don’t have one, go find one.
(These are the new rocks in my garden – aren’t they perfect “thinking rocks”?)