The flames lull me to a place not quite engaged. My eyes unfocus. My shoulders drop. My jaw goes just a little slack as I stare at my makeshift fireplace – the wood-fired furnace, door set open, office chair pulled close.

This has become part of my afternoon writing ritual. I stoke the fire so that I can stare at it for a while. It’s the best part of my day.

There’s something about just staring – into a flame, across a vista, at a child running, at a man playing guitar – that centers my soul. I find myself able to think and think through in ways that I can’t when I am doing something that requires active thought – reading, talking, even writing. I need a level of disengagement to think deeply and creatively.

I know this process well – it is what got me through years of school. I’d sit for hours in the library and read just a few pages. Most of those minutes were spent with my eyes focused on that middle-distance where it seems the idea of ether might have evolved. Suddenly, there, problems came unraveled, new seams were stitched between ideas, the dross was burned away, and I found myself refreshed.

So today, as I sit by the flames of my not-so-fireplace, I ponder why is it that I act as though real thinking requires consumption – the pouring in of new ideas, the unceasing search for more. Certainly there is a place for this new, but perhaps that place is not in every minute of every day.

Perhaps instead, the place of real thought – of honest reflection – is in that middle-distance between things where I am only disengaged and where my mind consumes ideas long-held as the flame consumes logs to produce new, ancient heat.

Where does your best thinking occur? How do you feel about our fascination with endless consumption of information and ideas?