The thinking tree Featured

9:37am EDT July 22, 2002

Rushing around our house, we were too busy to notice initially that Nicholas had quietly wandered away. But once we did, we launched a frantic search, inside and out.

Outside, I hollered his name several times before I finally caught a glimpse of our blond 4-year-old meandering happily out of our woods and down the hill toward the house.

"Where were you?" I scolded.

"In the woods," he said, as if that were a stupid question after I'd seen him walk out from the trees. "I'll show you."

I followed him back up the hill and onto the path I once cut through our woods. Along the way, he talked about the flowers and ferns and how pretty the woods were, something I hadn't taken the time to notice in quite a while. Then he stopped under a tall pine tree along the path.

"Is this where you were?" I asked.

"This is my thinking tree," he said with the earnestness of a 4-year-old.

Then he pointed to a flat rock where he sits.

"And what do you do here?"

"I think."

"And what do you think about?"

Said Nicholas: "Oh, God and the birds."

This was one of those parental moments when one's heart tries to squeeze into the throat. But that lump in my throat wasn't one of pride for a preschool son who shows some weighty intellect. If truth be told, I was saddened by the profound lesson he had just given me with regard to a major shortcoming in my professional life.

In this world of speed and frantic efficiency, how many of us stop long enough to think about anything, let alone God and the birds? I run around in a professional frenzy, going to meetings and interviews, doing lunches, attending seminars and conferences and doing my work, all without pausing to think. It's as if we can't handle those still moments, those moments of quiet reflection.

It's like we're afraid we might miss something if we, even for a moment, break away from our computers, e-mail, cell phones or our co-workers. And when we do pause, someone always makes us feel guilty because there's always something else we could have been doing instead.

Recently, entrepreneur Geri Mataya invited me to her day spa in the Marriott-City Center, called Spa Uptown. She wanted to sell me on the merits of stress-reducing relaxation. But like many younger professionals, I didn't think I could spare the time. She persisted, so I reluctantly accepted.

I arrived early for my massage and other spa treatments, hoping to get it over with quickly and rush back to my growing pile of work. But then she pulled a move. She sent me into the steam room first, which wilted me mentally and physically. I had no energy to worry or think about my next appointment. I had no strength to pace.

By then, it was time for my massage. At first, I tried to talk my way through it, ready to leap from the table in a moment of professional exuberance. But the soft music, remedial scents, candles and, well, the massage itself put me into a virtual trance. So this was what it was like to be still, if only for a moment.

I then experienced a facial and, finally, a manicure before finding my way back to the office. And wouldn't you know it -- the spa treatment had uncluttered my tangled brain, and I could think clearly for once. The stillness had allowed me to daydream -- to think about God and the birds.

Sadly, Geri says, "I see people who continuously watch their clocks," even at her day spa. "They put so much stress and pressure on themselves that they're running in the crisis quadrant rather than in the planning quadrant. You should always plan for some quiet time."

Words of wisdom from a fast-paced entrepreneur who admits to having similar difficulties slowing down, even in her own spa. Oddly enough, she says, many of her stressed-out customers find their way to her spa only because friends or loved ones buy them gift certificates in hopes of forcing them to relax.

Imagine if we all accepted those quiet moments and took the time to think and to dream. I can only imagine the refreshing new ideas that would flow out of such exercises in self-preservation. It's OK to pause. It's OK to stop and think about God and the birds.

All we need now are a few more thinking trees. And the wisdom of a 4-year-old to show us the way. Daniel Bates (dbates@sbnnet.com) is editor of SBN.