I have a little problem with down time. Specifically, I don't know how to relax. Whenever the rare opportunity arrives to do nothing in particular, I feel like I'm wasting time. And that's absolutely the wrong way to look at it.
This last weekend I forced myself to sit down with a book. I love reading but it sometimes feels unproductive. Like I should be writing for my blog, landscape painting or scratching out new cartoons.
The book I read is titled, "In Defense of a Liberal Education." It's written by Fareed Zakaria, a Washington Post columnist, CNN global affairs host and best selling author. Zakaria's book stresses the importance of a liberal arts degree, despite the trend towards business and technology studies.
Zakaria makes this valuable point in his book: "This much I will concede. Because of the time we live in, all of us, young and old, do not spend enough time and effort thinking about the meaning of life. We do not look inside of ourselves enough to understand our strengths and weaknesses, and we do not look around enough-at the world, history-to ask the deepest and broadest questions."
Now, I have some pragmatic cop buddies who would read the above paragraph and say, "So, Zakaria wants us to do more navel gazing." But that's not really it. Zakaria is trying to tell us that there are deeper things to think about than just money, status and advancement. There's nothing wrong with efficiency, productivity and accomplishment. But perhaps one of the overlooked secret weapons that fuels all of these things is navel gazing.
What I mean by navel gazing is reflective down time with yourself. What follows are three brief arguments in favor of navel gazing. Hopefully they'll cause you to pause and consider taking up this under appreciated yet powerful practice.
We live busy lives choreographed by schedules, responsibilities, apps and appointments. Even when we have moments of inactivity, we find ourselves reaching for the smart phone, tablet or laptop. Navel gazing forces us to abandon all the technological stuff and settle into the moment. Be one with our thoughts, wherever they might take us. The result of naval gazing is relaxation. It allows our minds to unpack, wander and explore. Talk to most artistic folks and they'll tell you that relaxation opens the doors to creativity.
Serious navel gazing invites meaningful introspection. The power of introspection is that we learn to see ourselves more honestly and clearly. Perhaps we like what we see. Perhaps we don't. Either way, honest introspection is the first step towards change. Whether it's to fix something we don't like, or to accentuate and further something we do like.
It's well known that sleep, exercise and a proper diet lead to good health and wellbeing. But emotional health requires balance in one's life, and the ability to sort stuff out. Ever notice how a long walk or shower can clear the mind? The same is true with navel gazing. Taking the time to check in with yourself can pay big dividends. We're often too busy to really shut everything out and be with ourselves. When we do, feelings and insights can emerge. We're able to quietly work through and resolve underlying issues. In this way, navel gazing contributes to emotional wellbeing.
Fareed Zakaria's book asks us to reconsider the value of a liberal arts education, partly because it forces us to probe the deeper questions like the meaning of life. Similarly, navel gazing encourages us to swim in deeper emotional waters. When we dive past the shallow end, which is filled with superficiality and surface debris, we reach depths where our core being resides. Navel gazing provides the oxygen for us to submerge for awhile. The result is relaxation, introspection and emotional wellbeing. Afterward, when we break the surface and return to the landscape of our lives, we are renewed and ready to tackle the slings and arrows of daily living.