Ever since I can remember, I’ve loved to think.
As a child, when all the other kids went outside to play in sandboxes or on swing sets, I wanted to stay inside—I don’t mean inside the house, necessarily, but inside my mind. My mind was my sanctuary, my refuge, my blank canvas where I could create and recreate the world at will.
Growing up, I experienced few disadvantages to having a thinker’s mind, so I wasn’t prepared to learn that there was a downside to my nature. This changed quickly when, newly situated in the corporate world, my boss’s boss called me into his office saying that he’d heard I had “shared some ideas.” Indeed I had, in a recent meeting of co-workers about the rollout of a new project.
In his office, the older, greying gentleman encouraged me, a 23-year-old ambitious woman, to share my thoughts.
“On what?” I’d asked.
“On anything you’d like,” he’d responded.
Filled with pride for the attention, I had shared my thoughts on how we could make our processes better, faster, more reliable, while also imagining him promoting me based solely on my creativity and drive.
Later, though, my coworkers told me that he thought me arrogant and out of line. I felt a deep shame come over me. I didn’t understand back then that many corporations don’t want their entry-level people thinking, they want them doing.
It took me a few years to regain my footing and begin to express my ideas out loud again. But it wasn’t until I discovered yoga—not the poses, though they fascinated me too, but the philosophy of yoga—that I truly found myself and my curiosity again. Here, I discovered a world of thoughts to think, and people to think them with. There was an entire yogic cosmology to explore, the language of Sanskrit to study and learn, gods and goddesses’ stories to ruminate on, four very different paths of yoga to explore.
Whenever I could find a yoga teacher, book, or philosophy that stimulated and engaged my mind, I’d sigh as a good feeling rushed into my brain. It’s like that satisfaction after a first sip of good wine, or, though I’m not a smoker, what I imagine would be the feeling of the first drag on a cigarette after a long day.
Yes, it’s like that. I’m not exaggerating. Getting the satisfying feeling I crave from thinking ideas is like an itch getting scratched, a burn being soothed, an addiction being fed.
At face value, you might think that this is an addiction I could satiate all by myself. After all, thinking is a solo activity. But it isn’t satisfying enough for me to take in information. I need to share my thoughts with others, otherwise I fall into a state of mind I know as depression.
To keep depression at bay, every single day I need to collect new thoughts and ideas, organize them, process them, and then, hopefully, share them.
I am often a person who inspires others to think about things differently. But I am just as often a person who fatigues and overwhelms other people. Knowing this truth about myself is helpful, but it hurts, too. I sometimes wish my presence comforted people more often than it discomforted them, or, at least, that being a comforting, easy presence didn’t require me to dial back or hide truer aspects of myself.
“Begin with the weather,” my husband once advised, after a particularly painful social encounter.
“But I don’t care about the weather,” I argued back. And I didn’t. I don’t. I rarely want to talk about surface things like sports, or pop culture, or the weather, when we can talk about climate change, and social justice, and healthcare. Why talk about the day-to-day responsibilities of your job, unless we’re talking about it in context of whether or not these responsibilities satisfy your soul purpose?
“Because,” I can hear my husband retort. “That’s just what people do. Start at the beginning, and work your way in.”
I confess that for me, small talk for me is like hair in a drain; it clogs everything up. Perhaps this is why I don’t often recall the details of our small talk—where you work, how many kids you have, (names of your children are even harder to recall), where you live…none of these details stick. It’s not that I don’t care, it’s that to me, these details aren’t the “sticky” things about you. They don’t define you, not in my mind. They aren’t who you are, deep inside, which is the person I want to know.
What I will remember about our conversations is how you feel about your work and whether your lifestyle satisfies you. I will remember what you said about how being a parent has shaped your outlook on the world. I will definitely remember whether you live close enough for us to see each other regularly.
Though I’ve learned how to self-censure, moderate, and watch for body language cues, there’s nothing finer than when I meet a fellow deep thinker. Someone with whom I can share ideas, and we both know we’re just playing with the creative atoms of the universe. “What ifs?” are our building blocks. “But it could happen,” we say to each other and grin when we’ve finished. “Anything is possible,” we remind each other. The hours pass in blissful symbiosis.
Hey, I have an idea! What if everyone, not just children but adults, too, could share and listen to crazy ideas—ideas about anything at all. What if there were no criteria to meet in order to offer an idea about something; you wouldn’t have to be an expert in the topic, you wouldn’t even have to come prepared with researched facts. I wonder what change would be possible in our families, our workplaces, our culture, if we allowed people space to think and create without judgement or expectation.
The trained-up, tentative cynic in me worries that we can’t move to this kind of freedom with our thinking. We grown-ass people all about settling down and settling in, not shaking our very foundation. I worry that too many of us have long ago lost our childlike wonder about the world. The cynic has a point: none of us have been raised that thinking-for-thinking-sake can possibly benefit our culture.
But the deep thinker in me reminds, “It’s just an idea. It could happen. You see, anything is possible.”