It’s a duality, actually. Clarity often comes at the spectral ends.
On one side there’s chaos. Chaos leads to cluttered thinking, to distraction, but it can also lead to clarity of vision like still morning air in the desert. Clarity simply shows in front of everything else, shining in front of a hazier, more distant background.
On the other side, quietude and stillness can provoke insights and clarity, too, a mental lens rotating into focus until suddenly there’s an image that didn’t exist a moment before.
For some people this duality does not behave predictably. Clarity comes when the noise of the day abates, and clarity also comes when you realize that your car is about to swerve off a wet highway curve. Often, clarity comes unbidden. Grab it when you can.
That is, of course, the problem. Clarity does not always come when you’re ready for it. In that quiet space after the noise, there’s a good chance you’re winding down, you’re closing up, you’re tired, and deep insights are likely to be wasted. Likewise, in the mortal moment before your car takes flight from the road, clarity’s eternal gifts aren’t going to do you any good either.
The question, then, is how to preserve your perspicacity for a time that makes better sense for you to persevere.
One thought: take notes.
Seriously: take notes.
You can do this any way you like, on your smart phone, on a pad of paper, in your computer. You can call your own voicemail and talk it out if you’re in a pinch. Having a sketchy record of your thoughts for later review can sometimes be the difference between losing your moment forever, or having a rope with which you can pull yourself up the mountain. If you get in the habit of this you’ll inevitably have more notes than you can ever review, but the act of making them in the first place sometimes helps you hold on to their meaning.
Another thought: don’t reject your half-baked ideas. Clarity is not about a perfect solution. Clarity has to do with seeing something you haven’t seen before. If you’re a poet or a painter that might be a hazy image without lots of detail, but that might turn into your most meaningful work. Clarity is the means for transforming what you already know into a cogent whole, with aesthetically pleasing lines.
When I’m on a challenging production trip somewhere distant, a million things to remember and a million things to do, I’m sometimes struck by the flashes of light that appear to me right in the middle of the day. There’s no logic to it, at least linearly; clarity comes when the churn forces an idea to the surface. In the tumult, however, I must grab the light when I see it, and that flailing effort to capture my fleeting insight can itself be a moment that upends the balance and precision of whatever I’m doing.
I find the duality of clear thinking energizing as much as it’s exhausting. When a sparkling idea comes I don’t want to miss it; the good ones play hard to get! But when the sparkling ideas come, I also don’t want to miss what I was doing when it appeared. To find your waking moments always distracted by promises of some intangible future is never to be present in the first place.
Clarity, therefore, becomes a description of a life in balance. You cannot see the world unless you commit to living it with a measure of gusto, and yet you cannot appreciate that gusto unless you stop to think about what it all means.