I first wrote about the importance of doing nothing while travelling alone. Now, as a mother of a toddler, alone time is scarce. Doing nothing seems positively criminal. So, I’ve caught up with the neuroscientist in me and reminded myself why it’s important. Is it time that you did too?
For two hours now, I’ve watched the waves curl one across the other in a marbled mixture of turquoise and frothy white. Above them, pelicans lurch with comic effect before dropping like torpedoes in a single soaring swoop.
In short, I’ve had nothing to do and nowhere to go – and I have tasted freedom.
Of course, that’s not entirely true. I have photos to take and articles to write. Exercise to attend do and an inbox more swollen than the archives of Shakespeare. But my current situation – in addition to its overwhelming beauty – has more or less demanded that I forget all that for a while.
The internet is patchy. The batteries running low. There’s the time difference and the lack of a table and chair. But above all else, there’s the wasted opportunity of an almost criminal nature. How can I let this pass me by while I glaze my eyes to a screen?
Recommended reading: The Original Pursuit of Happiness – Plato in Athens
That’s the freedom that travel gives us, I think. The permission to rest and to breathe and to think – at least for some of the time.
And that time, of course, is precious: we can’t know how much we will have.
The message from the world of philosophy, sport and science is clear: it’s not only important to find nothing to do. It’s essential to our wellbeing.
In elite athletes, overtraining is a recognised condition, one with deleterious effects. Time and time again, research reveals that mental rest is just as important as physical rest. It not only helps us think more clearly, but we live longer, avoid certain diseases and are potentially even more creative.
Sir Isaac Newton and the apple that hit him on the head and Archimedes relaxing in his bath may or may not be legends. But one of the small team who made the breakthrough in discovering the structure of DNA had this to say on the subject:
“It’s necessary to be slightly underemployed if you are to do something significant
In between the fall of fat raindrops, inspiration bubbles inside.
My notebook now sings with shiny new plans and the cherry-picked thoughts from the hundreds that passed by.
But as this photo reminds me, as do those wings that glide through the sky: we have won the fight for freedom, for most of us reading at least.
And so that authoritarian watchkeeper, the one who decides how we spend our time, whether we date our dreams or roll around in nothingness and let the thoughts fly by, that gatekeeper to our freedom lives within us.
It isn’t always easy. (And there’s no doubt that a tropical beach most definitely helps.)
Recommended reading: Why do people travel? 25 Reasons or is there just the one?
But among the many things that we all have to buckle down and do, among the burdens we each must bear and the pain that we fear no-one else will understand, we still have it in ourselves to set time aside for just living, just breathing, and just watching the world go by.
We can’t always find two hours. But we can’t never find that much as well.Let that be my new resolution, declared here for
2014 2019. To laugh more, smile more, do nothing more and let that rise out from the other goals and targets that glint and gleam ahead.
I’ll follow it no matter what happens, but I’m just interested to hear what you think about the following idea:
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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