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The lost art of being


By Nicky Marr


Are you ever totally silent? Do you ever allow yourself to just do nothing?

I’m sure, if I really put my mind to it, that I could find time in every day in which to just let my mind drift. But I worry that I’ve lost the art of just being.

I can’t remember the last time that I fully relaxed without being asleep.

My days are overflowing with noise and activity and with trying to get stuff done. I live by to-do lists; I need them to stay on top of everything.

Don’t get me wrong, lots of my work and my down-time is fun, but from the minute I wake up and switch on the radio to the minute I drift off to sleep to the sounds of some podcast or other, there's no silence, and apparently no time for doing nothing.

Those who know me well will be smirking; they’ll already be thinking that when I’m in a room I’m usually the cause of most of the noise – and they’d be right. But even when I’m alone – as I am much of the time now – I am rarely without the company of the spoken word.

Are we too busy on our phones to appreciate the silence?
Are we too busy on our phones to appreciate the silence?

Couldn’t I just switch off all the noise? But that brings with it the fear of missing out, of being ill-informed, of not having my finger on the pulse.

The radios in every room of the house often play different stations simultaneously. Then there are podcasts to tick off – I download six hours and 13 minutes’ worth a day – the 13 minutes is for The Archers. I listen to podcasts as I cook and clean, but that doesn’t take six hours. No wonder I listen during the night…

I’m sure I didn’t used to be like this, but then I didn’t used to be wedded to my phone. I don’t dare tell you the number of hours I spend staring at that screen in a week – lots of it is work, and some is Duolingo (I’m on Day 88 now of an unbroken streak learning German) – but mostly it is social media and those podcasts. Or Spider Solitaire…

But it can’t be good for me, or for any of us who do this, can it?

Looking around on the train the last time I travelled north, every single person in the carriage was either plugged in to headphones or staring at a screen. It was quiet – there was no conversation. But it wasn’t a companionable silence, or a contemplative silence.

I am becoming ever-more forgetful. That’s probably an age thing, but could it be a symptom of overloading my brain with information, and not taking the time to allow any of it to sink in? To hit home?

I’ve decided it needs to stop. Or at the very least, I need to cut down on my information intake. I just can’t process all the news and opinion I’m constantly trying to absorb – local news and national, keeping up with Brexit, following political and current affairs threads and constantly – constantly! – updating and checking my own social media.

What’s it all for? Does it serve any purpose?

I’ve tried yoga and meditation apps. I’ve tried lying flat on the grass in the garden and just staring at the sky. I’ve tried going for solitary walks. The walks are fine, except that while I’m walking, I’ll use the time to call my family.

Plus, the walks allow me to multi-task; the little screen on my Fitbit is counting my steps and helping me to reach my goal of 10,000 a day…

A digital detox is too harsh – could I manage a day? No. A weekend? Too much. Maybe a Sunday afternoon?

A friend recommended a book – Bored and Brilliant: How Time Spent Doing Nothing Changes Everything. It arrived immediately, but then it would; I unthinkingly ordered the audio book. Instead of an inert object, politely waiting until I’m ready to open its pages, here are seven more hours of noise – however well-intentioned – begging to be listened to.

But so far, so good. The book is making sense. Apparently, we need to allow ourselves time to do nothing, to daydream, to become bored, to allow our creativity a chance to rise to the surface.

Wish me luck. I’ll start just as soon as I reach the end of my to-do list.



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