By: Kevinn Chan
Written on a Sunday.
Today, I took a walk with earphones on playing nothing, and for the first time in a while, I heard myself think.
For the most part of last year, I spent every waking hour obsessing about getting busy. Free time was spent reading as much as I can, listening to as many podcast episodes as I can, or writing as much as I can. Volume was the focus. Squeezing every bit of productivity into each minute, efficiency was the game. Eventually, it became an addiction.
It’s a weird condition, but like most addictions, this one ruined my relationships. I lost touch with friends, jeopardized relationships with people I loved the most, and was estranged from the part of me that craved peace, rest, and fun just for the sake of it. As I wrestled with the thought, it became clear to me how I let this all happen.
“To be everywhere is to be nowhere”
Last year, I tried doing everything all at once, until I was nowhere to be found. Even when with friends, my mind is somewhere else, thinking about which podcast to download tonight or Youtube channel to binge over the weekends. I was at a constant state of agitation, wherever I was and whomever I was with. There’s a Coldplay lyric that illustrates this feeling:
Come on, oh my star is fading
And I see no chance of release
And I know I’m dead on the surface
But I am screaming underneath
– Coldplay, Amsterdam
It’s quite ironic how my attempts to learn about productivity, mindfulness, and living meaningfully are all getting in the way of those very things.
The addiction is a vicious cycle. There’s this craving to get busy and productive, which causes overwhelming anxiety, which further causes an even bigger urge to get busy. While acting on it feeds the addiction, doing nothing feeds the anxiety. No way around it.
But today, as I was taking a walk, I had forgotten to play anything on my earphones. No podcast, no music. But becauase I had them on, my ears, subconsciously I guess, were actively listening. Only this time, there was nothing to listen to, only silence. And in this silence, my thoughts were audible. No urge to work, no anxiety, and no overthinking, just fleeting thoughts.
It was also in this silence that I found a remedy to the addiction: space. Albeit unintentional, the act of playing nothing on my earphones while keeping them on created the space for silence and calm to thrive. It was a signal to my mind telling it to simply listen. There was no need to create, produce, or comprehend. There was only a need to be present.
Putting this into practice, creating these spaces is a matter of planning – blocking off certain hours for rest, limiting work to particular parts of the day, setting dates with friends and loved ones, adding mindfulness to the daily routine. Otherwise, anxiety will come creeping in through the down times. Winging it simply won’t do.
Pat had already told me this many times in the past… Should’ve listened and acted on it then. There is space for everything, we need only create it.