Life lessons and the unoccupied mind of Professor Kit Wellman
On Tuesday, April 21, Washington University philosophy professor Kit Wellman was asked to give his “Last Lecture.” The idea was taken from Randy Pausch’s book “The Last Lecture,” and Wellman was to speak as if it were his last opportunity. It was an emotionally charged hour, one that left my own cheeks damp and eyes puffy, but also one where many important, often forgotten, messages were conveyed passionately and articulately.
The lecture, called “The Excellent Human Life,” was based around Professor Wellman’s two core criteria for valuing whether or not a life is well lived: meaningful relationships and worthwhile projects. The entire lecture kept threading back to these ideals as Wellman touched on family, friends, regrets, the unoccupied mind and attitude.
The most salient point of the lecture for me was his emphasis on the unoccupied mind, which he introduced with a discussion of cell phones, BlackBerrys and iPods, saying, “Turn them off.” Wellman pointed out that in our constantly changing and fast-paced world, we always have things to do, people to communicate with and Twitters to check—less and less do we take time to simply let our minds wander. He stressed the importance of the unoccupied mind and how those distraction-free moments are vital for good self-communication and good decision-making.
This message has been replaying in my mind because intuitively I know it, and because, for this entire academic year, I haven’t been letting my mind wander enough. I have filled my time with other people, petty discussions, work and tetras—and I have felt less satisfied, less control, and less connected with myself. Because I am scared of graduating and the future, I have avoided thinking about it, and in the process, I honestly feel less satisfaction with the way I am living. Sure, I’m having fun, but I am on some level always aware of the costs.
In the past, I naturally spent time alone thinking about whatever, and now, looking back with a bit of perspective, I realize that during that supposedly “wasted” time, I was fantasizing, prioritizing and organizing—all things that helped me focus and live my life more fully. The time wasn’t really wasted at all.
Professor Wellman put it perfectly when he said that nowadays we are “excessively accessible.” We make ourselves available to others at all times, and the price is that we make ourselves less accessible to ourselves. We don’t let our minds wander anymore; after all, we have a million other things to do. Because of this, I have felt the consequences in my own life and have seen its effects on the lives of my friends. Sure, the distractions are fun and even sometimes valuable, but next time you have a free moment, turn off your phone, computer, iPod, etc., and let your mind go.