OK. I admit it. I didn’t always pay attention in chapel. Sometimes the quality of light through the windows caught my eye. Sometimes I found myself pondering the kindergartners in the front row: what were they thinking? Sometimes I just breathed in and out to center myself for the day ahead, perhaps for a tough parent conference. Sometimes I just reveled in the simple joy of being there: all of us together in a most wondrous space as the choristers sang and all creation seemed, for a few brief moments, at one and at peace.
But sneaking moments of reflection, it turns out, is getting harder to do.
In her essay “No Time to Think,” journalist Kate Murphy brings together data from a number of studies that all lead to a single conclusion: we bemoan how busy we are and yet we do everything we can not to be left with our own thoughts. And although we tend to blame the external world for that “busyness” we are, in many ways, the architects of our own misery. We are the ones that check our email constantly, distract ourselves with apps and games, and persuade ourselves that our “must-dos” give us “no time to think.”
As Walt Kelly’s comic strip philosopher Pogo so famously mused , “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
This is not to say that the world is not, in fact, a busier place. It is. And it is not to say that all of our new ways to communicate are bad. They’re not. But it is to say that we need to be intentional and disciplined about finding that elusive “time to think.” Like all “goods,” it takes a bit of effort.
But we’re in luck, I think. Our schools are custom-built for “time to think.” Chapel is one of those places. In between the favorite hymn joyously sung and the chapel talk that hits the mark are those almost stolen moments when we just sit with our thoughts.
And it’s not just chapel. It’s in how we structure our schedule and create quiet places or times where students and faculty can turn inside. One school has the luxury of a small mediation chapel that is open all day. Schools with campuses create seating areas and small nooks for reflection. Libraries are, in many ways, the sacred space of schools, where silence is valued and the freedom “to be” is honored. More and more schools are incorporating meditation practices into the curriculum, including walking mediation, community mediation, yoga, and journaling.
The beginning of the school year is a delicious moment. Everything is new and everything is possible. On a bright fall day, the sounds of voices and the movement in the hallways is balm to the soul. Amid the excitement, let’s remember that taking time ‘just to be’ isn’t a luxury. It’s a necessity.