‘We are all living in cages with the door wide open.’ – George Lucas
In case you haven’t noticed, human beings are obsessed with being busy. If we’re not at work or in class, we’re doing our homework, playing sports, going to events, partying with friends, attending meetings, making dinner, watching Netflix, singing, dancing, reading…the list goes on.
Even if we’re in a situation where there doesn’t immediately seem like there’s much else we can do, we manage to squeeze things in. When you’re on the bus, you can’t just be on the bus – you’re texting, listening to music, playing Candy Crush, watching Buzzfeed videos, listening to a podcast, or reading a book. There aren’t too many instances in the average day for most human beings when we allow our minds to be completely unoccupied by an action – in fact, I would argue that such moments simply don’t exist in many lives.
Our infatuation with being busy is likely the by-product of many powerful forces – two that immediately come to mind are the rise of capitalism throughout the planet, accompanied by the industrial revolution. With more efficient production comes more consumption, and keeping up with more consumption means more production. The goal for many societies simply became more – more shopping, more working, more television, more, more, more.
Efficiency became the mantra – the more things we could do and the faster we could do them, the better. It shouldn’t come as a surprise then, that societies in many parts of the world have a negative perception of the concept of ‘boredom‘ – the word itself has grown to have a negative connotation in everyday conversation.
If someone says that they’re bored, they’re urged to pick up a book, take up a new hobby or learn something new – to be productive, and to ‘do something with your life.’ You simply can’t do nothing. But if our minds are never allowed the chance to wander into the unknown, how will we ever know what they’re fully capable of creating?
I speak as if I’m the ultimate guru when it comes to allowing one’s mind to wander off, but I thought of writing about this topic precisely because I suck at it. Whether I’m on the bus, walking somewhere, going to bed – heck, even when I’m brushing my teeth, I’m listening to music. If I see a window in my schedule, it’s definitely being filled with something I’ve been meaning to do for a while. If that doesn’t pan out, watch me create a task that, all of a sudden, demands my immediate time and energy.
I became acutely aware of this issue (and I do believe that it’s an issue) when I began to really question why I take long showers on the weekends (unsurprisingly, this train of thought began when I was in the shower a couple of days ago). It’s not like I particularly enjoy it – if anything, I just end up annoyed with myself for using way more water than I needed to. I realised that it’s one of the few parts of my day – scratch that, my week – when I’m not occupied by anything else, mostly because I’m not really in a position to be.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that many of my thoughts and ideas also come up during this time. I’ve programmed my brain to be constantly occupied with a task to be completed or a destination to arrive at, so in those rare moments when I release it from the cage that is the confines of my immediate schedule and into its own, mostly unexplored land, it often comes back with gold nuggets of inspiration.
And I wouldn’t even consider this fully letting my mind wander – taking a shower isn’t exactly doing nothing. Who knows what would come out of just lying down or going for a walk – no music, no podcasts, no phone calls – and allowing my mind to explore what lies beyond the day-to-day thoughts that consume it.
A human being’s time and attention have become increasingly valuable resources in today’s world. Our species has the same 24 hours in a day, but the sheer volume of – for lack of a better word – stuff that can occupy those 24 hours has grown exponentially. Everywhere we turn, media, advertisements, businesses, causes, and other human beings beckon us towards their seemingly important purposes. With this comes the increasing pressure to engage in anything and everything the world has to offer – it becomes easy to feel left out or not ‘up to date’ with the world if you don’t.
But I invite you to turn away from the growing din of the outside world and make room in your life for simply doing nothing. It’s different from having ‘me time,’ which still includes engaging in some sort of (albeit relaxing) activity. Allowing your mind to wander means fully unplugging and disengaging from distractions. You never know what your mind might find in the lands, valleys, and oceans of your inner world that it is yet to explore. So, let go of the busyness of modern society, and do take relevant steps to let your mind out of its own cage.
‘Why do you stay in prison, when the door is so wide open?’ – Rumi
Trishna Patnaik is an art therapist and healer. She works with clients on a one-to-one basis in Mumbai.