Would our minds be healthier if we allowed more time for staring into space?
On most mornings when I’m waiting at the bus stop, I stand there with my iPhone or iPad mini catching up on the news, reading a book or checking Twitter. But it was raining today and since there wasn’t a shelter—and I didn’t want to get my iDevices wet—I had to stand there…doing nothing.
I found myself doing that thing future generations of humanity may only come to know of via history books. I speak of the fading art of staring into space.
I’m so ‘busy’ doing things, that I spend less and less time doing nothing. Why? Because ‘doing nothing’ seems like a waste of time. Isn’t catching up with social media at the bus stop more useful than standing there doing nothing, staring blankly?
As I found myself staring into space though, there was definitely a different part of my brain that fired up. I found myself thinking creatively, having ideas and making connections. But lest you think that’s still all quite ‘productive’, there was plenty of aimless wondering about everything and nothing too. There was something blissful about the freedom of this unfocussed thought. My mind was free to drift and, as a result, was free to function in ways it doesn’t get as much of a chance to do any more.
It left me wondering about the dangers in being so switched on all the time. What if all the extra stimulation and development our brains now get—thanks to our smartphones giving us 24/7 access to anything and anyone—also diminish other functions of our brain that are now being left dormant?
This isn’t intended to persuade anyone—least of all, me—to suddenly leave our iPhone’s in our pockets all the time. It’s simply a reminder that there might be some benefits to giving ourselves permission to simply stare into space sometimes. My sense is that we’re wrong to classify staring into space is wrong as ‘doing nothing’ too. There is—anecdotally speaking at least—real value in giving our minds permission to wander, drift and go to places that we’re not prompting them to go through direct stimulation.
We’re so busy telling our minds what to focus on that we run the risk of missing out on discoveries, ideas and connections that only our unfocussed mind will stumble into. And—who knows— maybe our brains would benefit simply from the break too?
So, unproductive as it may sound, here’s to making time to rekindle the art of staring into space. I can’t prove it, but I have a suspicion it’s more important than we might realise.