Entertainment of the mind is a curious thing. The entire concept of entertainment is to distract; to give the mind something else to think about. Because it’s a distraction, you have to ask “but what is it a distraction from?” Earlier this week, I came across an interesting interview with Pema Chödrön in which she suggests that it’s important to leave gaps in your day. Moments when you’re not deliberately seeking anything out. Just you, your thoughts, and nothing else.
This concept—leaving a gap—had me wondering why having gaps isn’t the norm. Why do we always need to fill our time with…something? Paying close attention to this yesterday, I noticed that I had an incredibly difficult time just stopping. I hopped from one task to the next, becoming ever-fidgety when there were more than just a few moments of pure silence. I wasn’t really working, just buzzing about; tidying up here and there, running to the store, making a phone call. When I did eventually stop, I noticed something: there was a distinct panic.
Looking closely, the panic couldn’t really be attributed to any one thing. Nothing was wrong, I’d finished most of what I’d hoped to for the day, but something felt off. Following Pema’s advice, I just stopped. I sat still; no distractions, no music, literally just me in a quiet room doing absolutely nothing. As my mind started to spin up, I listened in. The first few thoughts I had were “I should do something,” followed by the most important question “why?”
What I learned from this is that, save for specific instances where you actually do have to do something, most of the time you don’t. Today, I made a point to pepper a few of these gaps into my day. Each time, I had the same “let’s go do something” impulse only to dial it back. By just sitting and enjoying the silence, I noticed my mind quieted.
There was still a faint air of anxiety, a need to do, but eventually sitting still felt right. With a clear mind, I was able to see what I really needed to do—those items I’d procrastinated on in lieu of distractions—and got them done. It was incredibly simple and deeply motivating: instead of jumping into something else, just leave a gap.