I live in a large apartment building undergoing renovation. The infrastructure was reinforced, the windows were replaced, the lobby was overhauled, and a new gym just opened on the first floor. It’s much nicer than the old gym which, in its final stage, had only one elliptical machine, one bike, two treadmills, and a few weights. The new gym has lots of weight and cardio equipment, and a yoga room. I should be pleased and, I am, except for one thing. The new gym also has TV monitors on every cardio machine with the exception of just two of the bikes. As soon as you start to run the TV comes on. Yes, you can turn it off, but there’s no way to rotate the monitor out of the way. You’re stuck watching your reflection on the screen or twisting your neck to see outside. The makeshift gym with its two treadmills faced out the back of the building and no screens blocked a view of a little creek and some trees.
At 5:00 in the morning, when I am most likely to be on the treadmill, I don’t want to watch the pre-morning show programming – the local news which seems to cover only crime and weather and fitness shows for the over-70 set on PBS. I also don’t want to watch the morning show programming, any of the afternoon interview shows, or the evening news or sitcoms. And I don’t want to look at my reflection. I want to look out the window, listen to music, and let me my mind wander. Judging by the fact that even the yoga room has a gigantic television, I am in the minority. A new study, which perhaps you’ve already heard of due to its catchy, media friendly nature, indicates that not an insignificant number of people would rather administer electric shocks to themselves versus being left with their own thoughts for short stretches. Granted, listening to music while running did not constitute being left alone with your thoughts. Though I’m sure you see my point – most of us want a distraction.
Fulfillment is not sitting in a quiet room by oneself all the time. But neither is it the inability to sit with one’s own thoughts. In fact, as uncomfortable as it may be, sitting with one’s own thoughts is often the first step in finding the kind of life you can comfortably reflect on.