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From dead time to living time

A journalist, Amelia Lester, whose writing I appreciate, recently wrote: “An appealing thing about podcasts is that they can fill dead time – doing the dishes, walking to and from an appointment….”.

And it set me thinking. What isdead time’? And why do we need to fill it?

I know that I certainly try and fill every available moment with something. No matter where I am or what I’m doing, I seldom give myself a moment to just BE – to fully engage in the here/now. I watch TV while I eat; I read in the bath; I check my messages while I walk; and I listen to talking books while I drive. And then there’s the eternal (infernal?) Facebook. I’m driven to check that out at any given moment.

But why? Why is it necessary to always have my mind occupied? I know, for example, that some of my best meditational moments have come while I was engaged physically, without the need for input into my mind: painting a wall, say. Or chopping wood. Or dancing. I have allowed a clear space to exist so that I could simply BE.

There have been many successful results from this, including being able to focus better on what I’m doing. But one of the largest rewards for me has been the ability to better manage my stress levels.

I think that, in terms of stress management we don’t value enough simply doing ‘nothing’. We appear to live such busy lives these days, with multiple distractions, stimulations, and inputs. How often do we give ourselves the opportunity to just do nothing? To simply be, without the need to look at or listen to something? I’ll bet it’s very rarely for you too.

In his book In Praise of Idleness the British philosopher Bertrand Russell wrote “Like most of my generation, I was brought up on the saying: ‘Satan finds some mischief for idle hands to do.’ Being a highly virtuous child, I believed all that I was told, and acquired a conscience which has kept me working hard down to the present moment”.

The fact is that we have mostly forgotten how to relax.

Amelia Lester also wrote: “I’ve started to realise, though, that letting the mind occasionally wander without voices is important to my mood.”

Stress management is extremely important to our general health. But there are additional benefits that we might usefully consider: Giving our minds an occasional break can be highly beneficial in increasing our creativity. And, beyond that, just BEing is precisely what meditation is all about.

Consider what the Welsh poet W. H. Davies, in his poem Leisure, wrote:

“…A poor life this if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare”

In other words, occasionally, Don’t Just Do Something. Sit There.

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