EVEN WHEN we’re locked down at home, we can’t help trying to keep busy, if only watching the news and tracking the latest contagion rates and recoveries, and checking our bank balances online. Filling up the day with the busyness of routine, or, for those working from home, actually pitching for new business in a virtual presentation can be a challenge. Additional work time is added with the elimination of commuting.
Why so frenzied? Isn’t it time to slow down?
In his book, The Art of Stillness (Adventures in going nowhere) derived from a 2013 TED talk, Pico Iyer, a noted travel writer, extols the state of stillness or intentionally doing nothing. He talks to gurus of meditation who practice stillness or a complete elimination of activity — first, say goodbye to your Viber group. Emptying the mind, he notes, makes us not just placid in the face of stress but also more creative. Stillness is an art that needs to be mastered with great discipline.
Even when confined to the home in various levels of isolation, our mind wanders. We worry about how much value our stocks have lost and whether we can get a full refund on reservations and flights for a cancelled local trip, as well as all sorts of bills that need to be paid. Our mind has always been focused on problem-solving, making judgments, and planning. The uncertainty of any return to normalcy, whether the old one or the new, keeps us from enjoying dessert.
Why not go for stillness?
There is an ancient spiritual tradition of solitude, like stealing away for 40 days in the desert eating locusts and honey. Eastern religions like Zen Buddhism invite us to meditate by doing nothing — just sit and contemplate a “koan.” This is a riddle with no real answer like the traditional — What is the sound of one hand clapping? (Are you waving at someone?) You can make up your own koan — Are washable face masks also effective? Okay, that needs work.
Stillness, or non-activity, is a state that needs to be worked on. It can mean any of three things: 1.) You don’t do anything because you want to empty your mind; 2.) Doing nothing is your natural state of being; and, 3.) You don’t really know what to do.
This third possibility can unfortunately be misunderstood as a political commentary. What if you are confused and too stressed to act? Doing nothing and staying out of public view is a form of stillness. They aren’t even looking for you.
Does stillness allow us to make plans in our head? The mind is supposed to be a blank. But how do you fight off stray thoughts? That’s where the self-discipline comes in.
Planning is a mildly distracting mental exercise. Still, it used to be simpler. It involved evaluating capacity (financial, health, access) versus a desired goal. Let’s say you wanted to go on a trip with the family to a foreign country. Cost of the trip? Check. Visa needed? Check. Ability to walk long distances, including trekking up a goat trail? Next. There was no thought given to cancelled flights, destination lockdowns, or a need to be quarantined for two weeks upon arrival. Various disruptions of this sort are now part of making plans, or the inability to make them. Just going to Baguio is more complicated than traveling to Venice used to be.
The cycle of planning has now shortened to a daily to-do list — What’s for dinner? (Is it bangus in olive oil? Yummy.) The whole landscape of planning after achieving herd immunity or the decline of new cases to zero or near there is still hazy. Will this pandemic die down as in other countries? When will face masks finally just be wardrobe accessories again for bank robbers?
Anyway, stillness requires emptying the mind, and unplugging it from planning as well as daily cares and worries.
So, let’s go back to stillness. Are you sitting in the lotus position? Relax, loosen up. Close your eyes, put your hands on your sides, palms open and facing outward, thumbs and index fingers in closed circles. Back upright, shoulders squared. You dream you are a butterfly. You wake up. Are you now a butterfly dreaming you’re a man? And then… it’s time for dinner.
Tony Samson is Chairman and CEO of TOUCH xda