Editor’s letter: The life-changing art of doing nothing

Of all the ways in which I manage to irritate my husband of 20 years – leave my tea bags in the sink, open a fresh loaf of bread when there’s still the icky crusts left from the last one – he never looks more agitated than the times we’re on a long-haul flight and I just sit there, staring into space. He’ll look up from his film, and the book he’s also got on the go, and say, ‘HOW are you not bored to death? We’ve got hours of this! Haven’t you got a book you can read?’ 

Not always, no. He cannot accept that the activity I look forward to, as much as getting to our holiday, is this inactivity: sitting on a plane and gazing out of the window at an empty sky. I can’t overstate how restorative I find this time. It’s my version of meditation: sit, gaze, let the brain wander where it may. I can honestly do this, happily, for an hour or more. In all seriousness, some of my most precious epiphanies have come to me at such moments: the sudden realisation that a job or a relationship is making me unhappy. I’ve solved problems and had wild moments of creative inspiration for work pop into my head out of thin air. 

Obviously sometimes nothing happens, other than noticing that the pattern on the carpet looks a bit like Jeremy Clarkson’s face. And that’s fine. The point is, this is the one time I can think of, sitting 30,000 feet in the air, when I have permission to lie back and let my mind glaze over rather than suddenly feeling that I ought to use this time to pop on another load of laundry. 

I think I’m going to force my husband to read the feature we have today about the power of rest. Not sleep, not lolling on the couch watching Netflix, but genuine, motionless downtime. Like most people, he has convinced himself that this sort of meditative state is an unacceptable waste of time. It’s not. It’s just incredibly hard, in our world of over-stimulated, 24/7 connectivity, for any of us to truly escape into moments of nothingness. And there’s a growing body of evidence to validate my stance: rest has a significant, positive impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. So I hope our piece makes you feel less guilty the next time you find yourself flopping down and zoning out. 

Oh, but first, do take the time to read today’s excellent and entertaining issue of YOU magazine! 

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