I want to talk about the value of stopping. I mean stopping what you are doing, and chilling and reflecting with friends.
I want to talk about why this is important.
WHEN WE ARE WORKING
When we’re working on our projects – they could be a job, or the bringing up of children, or a creative work – we are very focused on the task. By definition, this means we neglect anyone or anything which isn’t wrapped up in the task.
So, if you focus on your job, you are by definition neglecting your family. If you focus on your family, you are neglecting your job. If you focus on your children, you may be neglecting your friends. And so on.
What you are working on is valuable. But to do it you sacrifice communication with others.
WHEN WE TAKE TIME TO REFLECT
Downtime isn’t just downtime. Have you ever tried to breathe in only? You wouldn’t live very long. Have you ever tried to tell your heart to only fire, and never pause in between? Again, you wouldn’t live very long. In fact, most of our body processes are built on a system of on-and-off.
THE VALUE OF OFF-TIME
Off-time, for a bodily system, is not just a chance to rest. The parts of your body, in the off-time, communicate with each other, and informally perform various checks between them. For instance, in sleep, the parts of your body which need regeneration find subtle ways of letting you know they need resources. And your brain takes the opportunity to communicate with recent events, reflecting on what has happened, and in the process improving its ability to file and process experience.
With your relationships, too, time you take to pause and reflect, maybe while walking or eating, are important. They enable subtle communications to happen by which those you love signal what resources they need. ‘Oh I’m tired’, a friend might say. Or they might just start talking about something. It isn’t idle conversation. It’s what I call meta talk.
It’s in the off-times that we do ‘meta talk’. In other words, instead of just doing things, we reflect about those things we are doing. We fly like a bird above our lives, and look at the landscape. Taking time out is therefore essential to getting perspective, which in turn is key to avoiding getting stuck in your own selfish life.
WHY TAKING TIME TO REFLECT WITH FRIENDS IS COMPASSIONATE
Compassion is central to your health. It stops you getting trapped in that private hell you probably recognise well, where you are always fearful for your own self-preservation. Compassion reminds you that others need care, and therefore that you had better get out of your own posterior and into a chat with others about how they are doing. Not just a quick check on how they are doing. Actual interest in and care about how they are doing. A bit of empathic participation.
WHY YOU ARE POOR IF YOU DON’T TAKE TIME OUT WITH FRIENDS
You may think you will be richer if you focus on your own goals and pursue wealth. But this is a misunderstanding of value. Actually, value is created when you forget your own wealth, and take a wider view. If you drive very fast down a motorway, even in a Ferrari, then you will only see a flat piece of road and a set of signs. A poor life. If you stop, especially with a friend, and go for a walk, you will see millions of years of beauty produced by a compromise between thousands of natural forces. A rich life. It’s just that it’s not wealth you control, so you ignore it.
Which brings us to the final benefit of stopping and reflecting with friends. It reminds you that you are not in control. Sorry, but you aren’t. Not in the way you think. You don’t control the universe. You only control yourself. And if you can’t take time out, you are a servant of whatever you are slavishly serving. So resign as general manager of the universe, and get interested in what someone else is interested in. Get used to not being in control, to helping others out. Paradoxically, that’s where true control lies. In not having to act at all, and so taking the time to flow empathically with others, and take an interest in their lives. And if you’re lucky, they’ll take an interest in yours and help you.
When you focus on a task, you sacrifice for a while communication with others who are not involved in the task. Our bodies know this, and have plenty of systems which require us to switch off our goal-focus, in order to allow communication and resources to gently flow to where they should be. When you switch off your goal-focused self and relax and reflect with friends, you learn to ‘meta talk’, to talk about life instead of just blindly doing it. You learn to take an interest in others’ lives, which is healthy. And you learn to remove yourself from the impoverished roads you drive, and walk into the rich wilderness that has always been there.
Take an hour to stop and be with someone, anyone, leaving your own goals aside, and getting interested in reflecting, with them, on how life is. It’s healthy.