I was recently reminiscing with a friend from my era- you know, the era of no ell phones, computers or IPADs- about how as children we would lie and the grass and watch the clouds and be comfortable with doing nothing. We also remembered having "quiet time" in our rooms. I used think think quiet time was more for the parents, but now I see that there was a wisdom there that we have forgotten
As the world we live in seems to go faster with all the technology we use, there is an urgent need for us to slow down. Pico Iyer makes the case, in this meditative excerpt from his new TED Book, The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere. According to Iyer, “the amount of data humanity will collect while you’re reading The Art of Stillness is five times greater than the amount that exists in the entire Library of Congress. Anyone reading it will take in as much information today as Shakespeare took in over a lifetime”.
While we need movement for healthy minds and bodies, too much “doing” and not enough “being” can keep our stress response in overload, leaving you waking at 4 am, craving sweets in the afternoon, weakening your immune system and contributing to the inflammatory response which can increase the risk of chronic illness. Stillness (which is different from sleep) allows the parasympathetic nervous system to do its work of “rest and digest”, where the healing takes place. You see, it is about balance.
I think of stillness in terms of mini, midi and maxi breaks. Mini breaks are short breaks you take daily, maybe 15 minutes of deep breathing or meditation. Midi breaks are those you take throughout the week- perhaps a yoga or tai chi class, a couple of hours of reading or journaling, a quiet hobby- a simply sending yourself to your room. Maxi breaks are your vacations, when you take time away from your normal routine.
It is interesting to note that Iyer found the same people who have developed the technologies that speed up our world are also the ones most sensitive to the virtue of slowing down. For example, when he visited Google headquarters he found that workers there spend 1/5 of their working hours in “free time”, letting their minds wander to see what inspiration they might find. Many in the Silicon Valley turn off their devices from Friday night to Monday morning. And Kevin Kelly, author of Wired Magazine, takes long trip abroad, traveling through Asian villages without a computer so he can “easily remember who I am.”
We ask our minds and bodies to “do” so much for us everyday, do you not think we owe it to ourselves to “be” more often?
To Be is to Do- Socrates
To Do is to Be- Jean-Paul Sartre
Do Be Do Be Do- Frank Sinatra