• Patrick McAndrew

The Importance of Stillness

My lovely mother sent me an article recently titled “In praise of doing nothing,” written by Simon Gottschalk, Professor of Sociology at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.  He opens the article by stating that, in the 1950s, scholars worried that technological innovations would free up Americans’ time, leaving them unsure of what to do with all this leisure time.

Technology, in many ways, has had the opposite effect.  As Gottschalk writes in his article, “our devices constantly expose us to a barrage of colliding and clamoring messages.  It disturbs our leisure time, our family time—even our consciousness.” 

People thought things would get easier, but they really haven’t.  Because everything moves so fast through the Internet, we’re expected to keep up.  This acceleration demands more work and, as Gottschalk puts it, “Acceleration imposes more stress on individuals and curtails their ability to manage its effects, thereby worsening it.”  It is, indeed, a vicious cycle.

The other night I attended a performance by Village Playback Theatre here in NYC.  Playback theatre is an improvisational art form in which audience members tell personal stories from their lives and watch them enacted on stage.  It’s a great medium for fueling discussion around important issues, the topic of discussion at my performance being the idea of boundaries, fences, and borders and how these words and their meanings exist in our lives.  It got me thinking about whether or not there are boundaries in existence throughout the online world.

We often hear the phrase “personal bubble” when out and about in public.  If someone gets too close or says or asks something a little too personal, we say that they are invading our “personal bubble.”  However, at least in my experience, the personal bubble doesn’t seem to exist in the online atmosphere.

Supervisors and managers text their employees at any hour of the day or night.  While some exercise self-control in doing so, many cannot help themselves.  There is always a demand for urgency, but we often forget that urgency does not equal efficiency.  I would argue we are much more efficient when we aren’t frantically running around like a chicken with its head cut off (where did that saying come from anyway?  It’s gruesome!).  While the general population (certainly not all…) regularly respect the personal bubble in personal, face-to-face interactions, the same general population does not do so through electronic devices.

A lot of his comes down to habit.  Most people who do not respect the personal, online bubble are in the habit of not doing so.  They believe its okay to text their employees at 12AM to ask for a favor.  Wha-wha- what!!!  That’s not efficiency.  That’s not a hard-worker.  That’s not determination.  That’s just not cool.

What we need is more stillness; more silence.  We need more space to breathe.  We need more space to think.  We need more space to simply be.  As Gottschalk writes, “Much research – and many spiritual and philosophical systems – suggest that detaching from daily concerns and spending time in simple reflection and contemplation are essential to health, sanity and personal growth.”  Amen to that!

It’s crucially important to work smart and work hard in life.  Just as with anything, you get what you put in.  If you put a lot of work into life, it’s going to give you a lot back.  There is this one quote that I love:

“If you’re hard on yourself, life will be easy on you.  If you’re easy on yourself, life will be hard on you.”  How true it is.

Despite the drive to get work done, relaxation, vacations, and stillness are just as essential.  The mind and body need this refueling to work efficiently.  If we don’t feed our souls properly, we will end up malnourished and experience a starvation of energy and happiness.

If you are one of those people who know the importance of stillness in your life and soak in that time, congratulations!  Keep doing you.  If you are the one who is always on, always connected, and always at the will and command of your phone or anything or anyone else besides yourself, consider switching up your approach.  Sit back, relax, and then get back to work.  Or else you will burn out FAST.

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