There you are, eating a burrito or picking at a hangnail, and all of a sudden, it happens: You have a thought.
I wonder about this. I read recently, in a Richard Selzer account, that “a surgeon knows the landscape of the brain but does not know how a thought is made.” Does anyone? Does anyone know how a thought begins? It’s a mystery to scientists.
Today, as I was drinking coffee and watching sunlight filter through the potted tulips, I had a thought. I wondered what great thing I might do in my life. It was a nanosecond of a thought.
I closed my eyes and thought about the great people I know. I concluded that every great person I know has sacrificed deeply. They live for a mission that’s bigger than their own comfort. As I sat there (very comfortably) on my couch with my just-right coffee, I wondered if I could rise to the challenge of mission. What would it take? And why do people do this? Why some and not others?
I sat there, reflecting on a life’s purpose. What does it mean to reflect? Is it useful? Reflection means to pause in the day and contemplate what I’m doing and what it means. A reflection literally is a light or sound wave being thrown back from a surface. I want to let things I observe and experience be “thrown back” in my face; I want to consider them deeply and fit them into the narrative of my life.
If a reflection is a “throwing back” of light, I wonder what I throw back to people when they observe me. What do I reflect, what do I teach?
My moment of reflection stirred something up in me. But I almost lost that thought in the rush of life. I could have ignored it altogether. (I mean, even at this very moment I’m thinking about 20 other things including but not limited to: how to manage the ladybug infestation in my house, how many calories are in a serving of ham, or why all the kids like that Iyaz “Replay” song). That greatness thought, like some shooting star across a dim sky, was barely there, embedded in the mush of neurons. I just had to figure out a way to hold it in place, let it do its work, and honor it today.
I want to be more reflective. I want to teach my children to develop curious, reflective minds. I want to be able to ask them, each day, what they wondered about. (I’m not sure how to guarantee this. I briefly considered sending the children to their room to meta-cognate before lunch.)
Living with flair means I let my experiences “throw back” something to me.