My friend Ellen always carried a book on public transportation so she wouldn’t be alone with her thoughts. People vary. I tend to find my thoughts pleasant companions.
Ruminate is what a cow does when she chews her cud. Webster’s says it also means to think carefully and deeply about something. Sounds good, no? But online article after article discusses the dangers of rumination and how to quit. Psychologists appear to use rumination for obsessive, repetitive rehashing of the sources of discontent.
It’s not just a difference in definition. I’ve read that a mind is a dangerous place to dwell, trying to understand your emotions is a mistake, and problem-solving should take over as quickly as possible. The implication: Any thought that isn’t purposeful puts you on a slippery slope toward depression.
Whatever happened to reflection, contemplation, imagination, introspection? Meditation in the old-fashioned sense of pondering something, as distinct from emptying the mind? Liberal arts along with employable skills? Please understand, I’m all in favor of mindfulness meditation. I appreciate planning and problem-solving, value the trades, and don’t have much use for obsession. But isn’t it possible the seed of at least one of the world’s great inventions, discoveries, or works of art may have germinated in a mind allowed to run free?
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.