A Moment on the Thinking Bench

Taking a moment to breathe.

Whether that’s just a single breath before the next thing or it’s taking some time away to sit quietly, that moment continues to grow in importance.

As I ventured to Ireland for the first time this past month, I discovered a solitary bench overlooking the port town of Howth just north of Dublin. My family history traces back to Ireland, and as I looked at it, I couldn’t help but think of this story I wrote in 2010 on my old blog about the value of finding those quiet moments I learned from my Grandfather.

It’s called The Thinking Bench.

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This story begins with a talk I gave at TEDActive a few years ago, though I feel it continues to resonate even more with each passing day. It’s one of solace and endless imagination in the always now, instant feedback, data streaming, 140 character, interconnected world we all live in. It’s a world I thrive in and one I love.

And it’s one that is changing us at the deepest level of our biology and humanity. It’s a world where our most valuable and defining resource, our attention, is stressed by the very tools that are enabling our progress. It’s a fascinating juxtaposition of our morality against our Darwinian drive to evolve.

Though the thinking bench story begins with much more humility and with my grandfather, a World War II vet who returned from Germany and trained as a bricklayer. Using that newfound skill, his GI $$, with his beautiful new bride, family and a few acres purchased on the rural hills North of Pittsburgh, my grandfather built their homestead, brick by brick.

He then joined the U.S. Postal Service devoting his next 28 years before retiring and meeting me — he a retired Veteran (of life), and me, an attention hungry, curious boy.

I remember looking forward to our constitutionals — a more eloquent term for daily, mindful walks, spoken during a time when responsibility coated our country’s shoulders. Past the thorny, delicious blackberry patches and over the hillside, poking near the edge of the woods, we explored and discovered the changing world around us, his land.

No matter the path of the journey, we always ended up at the same place, at a bench made from the trees on the property and cut for firewood to heat the home during winter. We sat atop a long, wide piece of weathered wood spread over two logs too big to easily be split into the cords of firewood. We sat there quietly… thinking.

We sat in silence of our voice for what felt like forever.

I knew we were supposed to be thinking, but as an eight year old, I remember being quiet and looking up at his far away face and just wondering; “What the heck are we supposed to be thinking about anyway!?”

It’s only now, in the whitewater of this data streaming, 140 character, interconnected world and after well over a decade bootstrapping and building an organization, that I’ve begun to understand his wisdom of the beauty being present in the moment those constitutionals illuminated, and the time for reflection, dreaming and communing with a system larger than us the thinking bench allowed.

It’s the double consciousness of that wisdom and the often contradictory relationship of our exponentially increasing evolution with technology I hope to explore, discover and share, my part in the conspiracy of awareness.

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I ended that post by asking if you are co-conspirator? Nearly 10 years later, it feels like the question is, now that you’re aware, what are you going to do about it?