May 19, 2019

The lost practice of do-nothing

I have been pondering about this topic for the past few weeks, mainly fueled by the books I have read and the people I have met over the past 2 months. 

In Apr, I read this amazing book "Digital minimalism" by Cal Newport, where the chapter on solitude and contemplation left me speechless. I could relate to that chapter so much as I'm someone who keeps jumping from one thing to another all the time. There were hardly any minutes during my day where I did "NOTHING".  I deprived myself of solitude through various distractions. 

Cal defines solitude as

"a subjective state in which your mind is free from input from other minds."

"Being alone with our own thoughts" used to be possible every day around 12-15 years back, while we are waiting in a queue, walking to a nearby store, taking public transport or taking a leisurely stroll in a park. Many times, I have been able to get new ideas/solutions to problems I have been working on while taking a shower or while I cook. 
How much time are we allocating in a day to be with our own thoughts without any devices these days?

When I decided to cut down my smartphone usage after reading Digital Minimalism, I was hoping that I would savor those "do-nothing" moments. But I took to reading big time and all the free times in between my daily responsibilities went to reading new books. Nothing wrong in reading as a habit, for it has given me opportunities to read some interesting books lately. But it is also a form of "Consumption", where we are engrossed in the opinions and thoughts of the authors ("inputs from other minds").

In "The One-Straw Revolution", Masanobu Fukuoka writes,

"Originally people would look into a starry night sky and feel awe at the vastness of the universe. Now questions of time and space are left entirely to the consideration of scientists"

How true this statement is! While in college days, I used to lie down on the terrace floor and just look at the night sky, feel the gentle summer breeze, stare at the moon and think about nothing. I haven't done this for many years now.

I'm sure it is not just our generation who has lost this habit of do-nothing. I see many family members from my previous generation who are hooked onto TV big time. The TV has to be running in the background the whole day. For some reason, it keeps them calm is what I hear. If it is the TV that ruined it for our parents, it is our smartphones, Internet, TV, iPads, books, Kindle, video games etc for our generation and our children's. Yes, it is becoming worse as days pass by.

As I was attending a session on "decoding present-day economics" yesterday, the topic of discussion was about materialistic consumption. As we were watching the documentary "The century of the self", this particular passage caught my attention.

The words of Paul Mazur, a leading Wall Street banker working for Lehman Brothers in 1927, are cited: "We must shift America from a needs- to a desires-culture. People must be trained to desire, to want new things, even before the old have been entirely consumed. [...] Man's desires must overshadow his needs..."

One of the reasons why large economies push for over-consumption in people's minds is that it helps to keep people docile and not question anything. This is such a relevant point in today's times. We slog during weekdays and indulge in mindless consumption during weekends. 

Last weekend, we went to see a children's movie in a multiplex. Let me state upfront - we don't go for movies in a movie theatre often, this is a rare family outing. The overall experience left me shell shocked - a movie experience for a family of 3 costs around Rs.2000. A cup of coffee was Rs.160 which tasted yuck and so unpalatable. Both my husband and I discussed about these mall expenses and decided such movie outings are totally not worth our hard-earned money. 

On the other hand, we had been to a nearby small restaurant yesterday where a small glass of coffee that costs Rs.10 tasted so good and fresh.

 I'm digressing here, but as you can see, it is easy to indulge in mindless consumption these days - the ones that cost us money (materialistic) and/or time (devices, social media etc). Such consumption is only making us docile and not allowing us any time or mind space to question anything around us.

We don't ask any questions about why things are the way they are. Why do we buy so many things? Why do we spend so much during weekends? How is our consumption impacting others, other living beings and our planet? Why are we hoarding many things at our home? Why are we okay with spending for a popup "curated" meal experience that costs Rs.3000 per person per meal? Why do we buy so much junk foods? Why are we not reading food labels? Why do we support fast fashion?

I don't have answers, but what I'm realizing is that I need to invest time doing nothing. It is easier said than done, but will consciously make efforts towards it. Hopefully, I might find answers to these questions during those moments of solitude.


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