July 19, 2014

THE CONCEIT INHERENT IN FRETTING OVER THIS...:

This column will change your life: just sit down and think (Oliver Burkeman, 7/19/14, The Guardian)

Modern humans spend virtually no time on "inward-directed thought", and not solely because we're too busy: in one US survey, 95% of adults said they'd found time for a leisure activity in the previous 24 hours, but 83% said they'd spent zero time just thinking. The new study, led by Timothy Wilson of the University of Virginia, first asked students to entertain themselves with nothing but their thoughts in an "unadorned room". Most said they found it hard to concentrate; half found it unpleasant or neutral at best. In further experiments, older people, and those who rarely used smartphones, got similar results. Meanwhile, those given the chance to do something outward-directed, such as reading, enjoyed it far more. And when 42 people got to choose between sitting doing nothing and giving themselves electric shocks, two-thirds of men and a quarter of women chose the latter.

Are we mad? In his book Back To Sanity, the Leeds Metropolitan University psychologist Steve Taylor answers: yes. The condition he diagnoses, "humania", isn't recognised as a disorder, but only because we're all victims, he argues, and it's part of the definition of a mental illness that most people don't have it. The "urge to immerse our attention in external things is so instinctive that we're scarcely aware of it", he writes. We often speak of emails, tweets and texts as if they're annoyances that we'd eliminate if we could. Yet the truth, of course, is that half the time we're desperate to be distracted, and gladly embrace the interruption.

Taylor's explanation for this puzzle borrows from Buddhism (among other places). We mistake ourselves for individual, isolated beings, trapped within our heads. No wonder we don't dwell on what's inside: that would underline the loneliness of existence, so obviously watching TV is more fun. To sit comfortably with your thoughts first requires seeing that there's a sense in which they're not real. A less new agey way of putting it is simply that you don't need to believe your thoughts. Whereupon they become fun to watch, and the need for distraction subsides. To quote the title of a book by Sylvia Boorstein, a meditation teacher: don't just do something, sit there.

...lies in the notion that your own thoughts are interesting enough that you ought to be spending time with them.
Posted by at July 19, 2014 7:56 AM
  
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