Years ago, I chanced upon an advertisement that advises: “Don’t just stand there doing something. Sit. Be still.” It reminded me of a Simon and Garfunkel song called “Groovy” which had these lines: “Slow down, you’re moving too fast, you’ve got to make the moment last.” I have adopted them as my OM humming mantra to remind me always not to get carried away by the rushing flow of assignments. They help me ease on the gas pedal and pull up somewhere on the side road to reclaim the silence I need from the noise and haste and forward momentum of daily life.
Many of us have normalized busyness to the chronic point of overload. I am now a supposedly retired senior citizen and yet here I am, still being swamped with creative work. I never imagined that I would be working with the son of a colleague who has taken over his late father’s shop and expanded it to pursue production projects in digital media and entertainment. I find it amusing that this young “inheritor” seems to forget my age and keep involving me in his projects. Sometimes I attend meetings with his clients, who are all as young as my own son.
Don’t get me wrong. I like to be useful and my ever-fertile mind has something yet to yield. After all, experts say that human individuals are most productive in the years between 60 and 80.
There’s just one problem I have observed. So much time is squandered in interminable virtual meetings. Look, I welcome digital technology. Thanks to it, we did not feel totally marooned at home during the long lockdowns. We got to talk to one another, meet and plan and get work done without having to go out and risk getting infected.
But since we all discovered the useful benefits of having virtual meetings, it now seems that we can never get enough of it. When it’s not a zoom meeting, it’s chat group or a text conversation thread. My cell phone would light up with accompanying sound alerts deep into the night. Exasperated, my wife would often groan in half sleep: “Can’t you give it a rest?”
While smart phones and laptops have made communication more convenient, I’m just afraid that it has so quickened the pace of today’s world to the extent of throwing our internal timer out of balance. Our internal timer plays tricks on us, making us think things are not moving fast enough. Thus, because it is convenient it only supercharges our human impatience to get things done faster. Virtual meetings and conversations give us that illusion of things are moving.
So when I finally get away from the virtual meetings to buckle down to work, I would realize that I am left with no more space or room for slow absorption and reflection that are so necessary for creativity. Meanwhile, production team is breathing down my neck giving me the guilty feeling of being the cause of delay.
I’m supposed to be a sprinter when it comes to creative work. When I was an advertising copywriter, my workmates did not call me “in the nick of time” for nothing. But all that was sheer hackwork. Now in my mellow years, I shun quick half-hearted tasks. To me there must be joy in doing creative work or it’s not worth doing at all. Truth is, I experience a surge of exhilaration whenever I find some quiet, undisturbed moments to write or hatch ideas or just linger on a collection of compelling images.
In my boyhood, my teacher kept on hammering this into our heads: don’t do tomorrow what you can do today. It’s true, we don’t like to wait. We get antsy when a job we’re paying for or the food we ordered is taking too long.
Through the years, I have learned the wisdom of biding your time. I have noticed that slow-cooked stews taste better. So many things benefit from giving it time. To members of this digitally powered generation the cliché “good things come to those who wait” is annoying to them.
Creativity also needs space for the mind just like a seed needs space to grow. When seedlings grow too close together, they get stunted and are not as healthy as plants with enough space. Similarly, the mind needs a quiet space to absorb nutrients and access light, space in between for “deceleration and immersive attention” as someone calls it.
That space enables you to step back and have a drone view of the forest before diving down into the trees. Most of the time, people I interact with are so carried away with details of how to do it, I get ignored about the basic questions of why, who, what. Everybody has an idea and pretty soon the project does not go anywhere and nobody knows what it’s all about.
Ask yourself, is this really necessary? Is this what is needed, given the situation and the resources?
This is what happened recently. During our virtual meetings in which I chose to stay mute, the client and the team were so completely engrossed and carried away with the how’s of the work and the tight deadline dangling over our heads. When I could finally sit down with the head of the said project and looked at the nitty gritty of it, we realized the cost was too high and the benefits were too meager. So why do it at all, I asked. He went back to client and thankfully the client saw the light and agreed to “park” it for the moment. And to our aghast, we found out later that a similar ready-made material was already available online. So much time and effort expended on virtually nothing!
My wife is probably right: sometimes we need to shut down the cell phone and give it a rest. The words of a spiritual guru echo in me: “A mind that learns to let go gradually returns to its inherent wholeness, happiness, and simplicity.” And may I add, back to common sense and reality.
We need our minds to be whole and most of all happy to be able to accomplish tasks that are well thought out, solid, beneficial and most of all personally fulfilling to you.
Instead of Tiktok, the platform for those who want 3 minutes of screen fame, let’s do Think Thonk. Think and contemplate like a monk. Less talking and chattering in virtual space and more space to allow your heart to sing and dance as you let hundreds of ideas pop unrestrained in your head.
David Kundtz in his book Moments in Between advises us: “See your quiet moments today as preparation of welcoming place for valuable thoughts that will just drop in.”
Are you too preoccupied with the noise and clutter of virtual happenings at the moment?
Stop. Sit. Be still. A good idea could be knocking and would like to drop in.