The Little Black Box that Never Was

Some time ago now, I was having coffee with an old friend, and for whatever reason, we thought it a good idea to brave the murky waters that encompass the never ending battle of the sexes, more specifically, the differences between men and women. He mentioned he had read some book on this issue (because we all know that books have solved all our problems in this regard) and that the book highlighted the fact that men have what is dubbed a “little black box” in their minds. I’m sorry, come again?

Allow me to explain.

You know those times (lets be real ladies, we both know you know those times) when you’re sitting accross the dinner table from your significant other and conversation has abated for the moment (that is, assuming it ever began) and they appear deep in thought. And even though you know it’s a long shot, and even though you’ve asked a million times before, and even though you already know the answer, you venture once again to ask the futile, though potentially dangerous “what are you thinking?” question, hoping beyond hope to unearth some deep, meaningful conversation while simultaneously burying the 3,001 anxieties that suddenly and instantaneously sprung up in your own mind at the exact moment you uttered the words… as though if he in fact did answer the question honestly it might only serve to confirm all your deepest insecurities about your relationship… (!!!) *gasp. Only to receive the oh-so climactic:

“Huh? oh, nothing.”

What is with that anyway? You can’t possibly be thinking about nothing. The very sentence is an oxymoron… thinking about nothing, implying that of course you are thinking about something. Come on ladies, am I wrong?

But my friend went on to explain that this is in fact true about (most) men. There exists, as the author phrases it, a “little black box” of nothingness in the mind of “man” where men can go and “zone-out” temporarily. That is, when men say they aren’t thinking about anything in that particular moment, they actually mean, they aren’t thinking about anything in that particular moment.



If you are anything like me, this very concept makes absolutely zero sense. I can’t even imagine a world in which this might possibly ever be a reality in my life. I will speak for myself on this one, but I know that any time a guy has ever asked me this question, every single time I’ve ever said “nothing,” I’ve been lying.


My mind never sleeps… ever. Am I alone here?

I think not. I have brought up this question to several of my girl friends, and often times to both my girl friends and their boyfriends simultaneously, and every time (thus far at least), I have received the same resounding “OHMYGOSH Yes! He always says that! I’m like, hello, what the hell does that mean?!!” followed by a casual shrug of the shoulders from the dudes saying “Oh yeah, that’s totally true.”

Again. Still can’t comprehend.

I remember back when I was in Africa, I was having trouble sleeping at night because I had so much going on in my mind. I had mentioned this to some of my teammates, and one of the guys gave me this bit of advice:

“You know what I do when that happens? I imagine a TV in my mind (I’m shocked, really, please go on), and imagine all the things I’m thinking about are on the TV set. Then I walk over to the TV set, and turn it off. And I picture everything going black. Problem solved. You should try it.”

I think I stared at him blankly for quite an uncomfortable amount of time while I tried to decide if he was in fact being serious before I realized that yes, of course he was, and then finally conceded figuring, “what the heck, it’s worth a shot.” I mean, it can’t hurt. But I knew it’d be just about as fruitful as counting sheep. (Side note: has that ever really worked for anyone past the age of 5?). So I tried it. That night, as I lay down to sleep in that sweltering room and closed my eyes. I envisioned a television set, and tried to collect & compact all the activity in my head onto the screen (which was a struggle in and of itself), and then reached out and turned off the TV as I imagined it turning black…

(DISCLAIMER: prepare to enter stream of consciousness)

“Great, so now I have a TV set, and it’s off. What good was this supposed to do again? How is this supposed to help me sleep? Now I am just staring at a blank screen. He can’t possibly turn his mind of with this TV? No way. That doesn’t even make sense. What am I supposed to think about now that the TV is off? Just imagine blackness? Okay, Operation Black Void: GO! … still not working. Dear Lord, please help me go to sleep! Holy (use your own imagination here)! What’s that noise? OHMYGAWWD!!! I hope it’s not that creepy salamander that keeps squirming behind the curtains! Makes me think of that movie… what’s the name of it again? Oh yes, Parent Trap. The one with Lindsay Lohan, before she went all psycho hollywood diva. That scene where she gives her evil step mom the Evian bottle to drink when they’re camping and when she opens her eyes there is a salamander on the bottle and it wanders into her mouth and she screams bloody murder. Haha, that was a funny movie. I should really watch that again when I get back to the states. Africa is hot. But the babiiies!!! I just love the babies. It’s totally worth it. I’m never going to fall asleep…”

Needless to say, it didn’t work. Not.even.close.

I have always had difficultly turning off my brain and being still. I like to stay busy. I like to be doing, going, seeing, visiting, exploring, trying, engaging, “verbing” if you will. I suppose it’s just an external manifestation of what’s going on internally 24/7. But I am so intrigued by this thought that in general, men seem to be accomplish this mental state of stillness so easily and so completely. (Then again, should I really be all that surprised to discover there’s really not that much going on upstairs after all?)

-Juuuust kidding!- :)

Anyway- I had almost entirely forgotten about this whole thing until I ran into an article on The Practice of Stillness, and it really challenged me. I realized I hardly know the first thing about spending 15 minutes a day actively doing nothing, let alone not thinking anything. Even if I’m not physically doing something, I am certainly thinking about what I’m going to do next, or what I need to be doing, or what I’d rather be doing, you get the picture. But reading this article made me realize how much I could really use a little space in my life and in the gray matter between my temples. If only I had a little black box…

Anyone else have an opinion or experience with any of the above? I’m curious to find out just how accurate the theory in that book is. Any women out there with a little black box of their own? Or men who don’t have one? And what about that concept on the practice of stillness… I can’t help but wonder if the world wouldn’t revolve just a little smoother if we all took a little more time to be still…


8 thoughts on “The Little Black Box that Never Was

  1. From the C.S. Lewis book “Miracles”: paperback version, Page 49, 1st full paragraph – “To Believe that Nature produced God, or even the human mind, is, as we have seen, absurd. To believe that the two are independently self-existent is impossible: at least the attempt to do so leaves me unable to say that I am thinking of anything at all.”

    I submit that if someone with the thought process of C.S. Lewis can honestly state that he can actually get to a point where he “is unable to say that he is thinking of anything at all” (regardless of exactly how he does it) it must be possible! Seems the “Little Black Box” DOES exist!

  2. So I stumbled upon your most recent post –btw youre an awesome writer and im thoroughly enjoying it–and have read back through the entire “quitting sugar” saga. While i can’t say I practice all of the same food habits you do, it’s definitely makes me re-think my meal choices more often and keep going strong through week 5! Plus that vegan food you took me to in p-town was BOMB and i wouldn’t mind getting me some more of that!

    But yes, cayla, sadly the black box does exist! I think we guys all know that a girl saying she’s thinking about “nothing” is a lie and should sound the alarm in our head, im loving your perspective on seeing it the other way around! (and I couldn’t help from busting up about how the tv thing “blew. Your. Mind.” haha well done :). But yeah this reminded me of an article i saw in the new york times called “the joy of quiet” you should check it out…albeit not fully about non-consciousness, but more about “the art of slowing” you might find it interesting!

    • Haha, Layne that’s awesome! Thank you for the nice compliments, I appreciate that a lot. I will definitely check out that article- I really do enjoy quiet time, I just feel like time in general gets less and less as the days go by… but it’s something I want to get better at. I have to say though, I am definitely jealous that you men have that little black box… but hey- if you ever wanna visit Oregon again, I’ve got a few new favorites up my sleeve :P

  3. LMAO. It’s true, though! Sometimes my girlfriend will ask me what I’M thinking, and I’ll answer – quite truthfully – “nothing.” I’m just spacing out, that’s all! I guess you could call that a black box.

    • Haha- I love it. I think that men and women have different definitions of “spacing out,” becuase spacing out to me just means my thoughts aren’t quite in the present moment, but it doesn’t mean I’m not thinking! haha. Thanks for reading :)

  4. Hahaha, that is amazing! Thanks for sharing your insight! :)
    I love your comment: “and while you think we should be thinking about how beautiful you are at this moment, we think about the stuff we need to do so that you can/will have the things you need to stay the beautiful person you are.” This is very sweet actually, and practical! Though I find, I’m actually very practical myself, and I don’t think I’m ever really thinking or expecting “he” ought to be thinking about “me” all the time. haha. But I completely understand your point. Love it.

    Thanks for reading & sharing!

  5. I don’t even know how I got here now . . . But you could be my wife, scared to ask what we are thinking, but asking anyway . . .

    Generally not a little black box as much as it is . . . thinking about what I need to do tomorrow, or later this week. And while you think we should be thinking about how beautiful you are at this moment, we think about the stuff we need to do so that you can/will have the things you need to stay the beautiful person you are.

    Yeah, I know I just tripped your BSmeter . . . but it’s true nonetheless :)

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