by Richard Cawte
Down-time is vital. Being still and quiet in the midst of a moving, noisy world is in itself a good thing. It encourages thought. It encourages self-awareness. And the onus is on the mind to be creative, truly creative: to make something of nothing, rather than having everything plonked in front of it ready-made.
1. Remember the benefit of silence and stillness.
A lot of us are afraid of silence and stillness and we feel the need to fill every second with noise and activity.
Parents transfer the fear to their children. “Oh my god, what do I DO with the kids?” they say with a shudder, as though every second of the child’s day MUST be filled with something.
Children become unnerved if the world is not a full-on bombardment of plastic toys, ipads, computer games or fast moving TV screens. Whatever our status or our age, we all seem to live in a world that regards “nothing to do” with horror.
We are afraid of silence. We are afraid of being our true selves. Leave the gadgets on and there are no awkward pauses in conversation. There is no time to reflect, to create humour, to recount a story. If we were all to do “nothing” more often, we might find ourselves more relaxed, more in control of our thoughts and emotions, and more able to communicate effectively.
My advice is simple. At times, do absolutely nothing. Provide no distractions. Switch off the mobile phone, take the landline phone off the hook, have no TV, newspapers, radio, no loud music, no toys, games – in short, nothing! Otherwise your engine-speed gets accustomed to being highly-revved. Without down-time, you will find it harder to unwind as you grow older. And if the idea of having nothing to do is just too scary, then take up a meditation or yoga technique that you can practice alone, and in silence.
Tips – Take time away from all gadets of distraction – TV, radio, phones, newspapers – Learn to relax and spend time with yourself – Learn a meditation or relaxation technique
2. The Magic of Reading Reading helps to expand your vocabulary.
It helps you to construct your own sentences and to communicate with others. It is a far more creative process than watching a movie or a televised version of a book, because you create the characters, the scenery, the whole experience, in your imagination. You move through the book at your own speed, often pausing to allow thoughts to wander off a tangent, or to acknowledge a truth, or remember an incident from your own life that the book has brought to mind.
“He who does not read is no better off than he who cannot read.”
Read more! But be discerning. Read stories that enrich your world experience. The odd thriller or murder mystery is fine in moderation but a diet of crime fiction really gives your subconscious a repeated message that the world is a scary place. Likewise newspapers concentrate only on the bad things that are happening, while gossip magazines feed on other people’s pain and distress. Allowing bad news and gossip in your life rubs off and is unnecessary. There are many good things happening in the world and it’s important to remember that and to go and read the positive stories. Read to the people (or the pets) in your life.
If you have children, read to them. Read your favourite passages, plays, poems, limericks to each other. Sit quietly with each of you reading your own book. And if you don’t have money to buy books and can’t get to a library, make stories up yourselves. All of us can do that. You might be surprised how much fun it is. What’s more, it’s free!
Tips – Choose what you read with care – See the inspiring books section of the website for reading ideas – Make up your own stories and share them with others.
3. Music feeds the Soul
Did you know that listening to music stimulates precisely the same innate pleasure systems as watching television? But it doesn’t short-circuit the brain at the same time. Music stimulates the brain’s dopamine circuits and activates the same brain regions as euphoria-inducing things such as food, sex and recreational drugs. Whilst television hi-jacks these regions and corrupts the mechanisms by tricking the brain into thinking it is relaxing when it is not, music bestows a genuine reward on the body. What’s more, studying music actually promotes a child’s intellectual development, increasing their IQ in all areas.
Tips – Make time to listen to music – Vary your music and include some classical and relaxing choices. Don’t always listen to favourites, vary your taste and find new musical experiences
4. Art, Craft and Home Study.
Learning to paint has a very similar effect on the brain as music. No paints? A pencil and some paper will do. Why not order a “how to paint” home study course? It doesn’t matter if you have never done any drawing or painting in your life. It doesn’t matter if you genuinely have no artistic talent. Just making marks on paper is a liberating and creative endeavour. Do you have a family? Are you looking for a shared activity? It’s great to learn things WITH your kids, instead of teaching or instructing, and it’s great for them to see you in a new light – as a beginner, just like them.
Tips – Other crafts and activities to consider — Flower Arranging, knitting & crochet, making home made cards, scrapbooking
5. Radio and Audios.
One of the great pleasures in life is to sit and listen to an audio track or a story on the radio with other members of your family. The act of listening to the spoken word is a great way to boost listening skills. Each listener has his or her own vision of the characters, the settings and the story. Yet the activity is a shared one. You experience it together, share laughter together, and create the story simultaneously. The spoken word has a great power on the subconscious, and without the distraction of the moving images on a television screen, the mind is free to drink in the meaning of words. It expands its own lexicon as a result in a way that it cannot when watching television. Once again, this is a simple, cheap and easy activity to take part in. The most tired parent can put an audiobook cassette/CDRom into a machine and switch the “on” button. The rewards are great.
Tips – Listening to children’s stories, especially fairy tales, myths, legends and fables is equally rewarding for adults and children alike, so consider doing this even if you don’t have children!
6. Growing things brings life.
Here’s a simple one, and you don’t have to have a big garden or allotment to enjoy the benefits. It has been proved that people who are exposed to more greenery are less likely to be violent or aggressive. They are also able to concentrate more and interact socially more easily than people living in inner cities. Whereas television and computer games stimulate the stress-producing nervous system, greenery does the opposite. The bottom line is that a blade of grass does not offer criticism, bad news, instruction or negative images. As a result, it encourages self-esteem. It’s that simple. For those of you thinking that it is not possible to get yourselves or your kids into a greener environment on a regular basis, why not grow a few plants indoors? No matter how small your living space, this can be achieved. You’ll see and feel an immediate response, and it will be a positive one. If you can’t do this, research has shown that just thinking about plants, having paintings of plants on your walls or using nature style pictures as your screen saver has a beneficial affect, significantly lowering our heart rates.
Tips – Resolve to grow one living thing. No matter how small the space, it’s possible to have a pot plant or a windowsill garden – Hang at least one painting or print of a plant, a garden or nature scene in your home – If you have a garden use it. Make the effort to take a walk outside every day no matter the weather.
7. Outdoor activities / Exercise
We all know that taking regular exercise is beneficial for mind and body. It’s a well-documented fact. It’s interesting that in a world of increasing television-viewing and sedentary jobs, action and sports-oriented holidays are more and more popular. We are biologically hardwired to need some exercise, and some genuine adrenaline-stimulation. Just ten minutes of exercise per day can increase your endorphin levels for an hour. For adults, there is the added benefit of feeling an increased self-confidence and heightened sex drive as a result.
Research has shown that not only do adults who take regular exercise feel an increased ability to be sexually aroused, they also have more intense sexual climaxes as a result.*This includes people of all ages, including those aged 60 and above. So the quality of life is enhanced.
Respecting our own bodies leads to greater respect of others, and decreases feelings of inadequacy that lead to aggression. One thing all parents can do is set aside time for exercise both for themselves and their children. Again, if the precedents are set when we are young enough, they are far more likely to continue into adulthood.
Exercise doesn’t have to involve gym membership, sports or exercise classes or having a home gym. Walking is one of the best exercises you can take and it’s free. Even if you live in a city block or a built up area taking a walk is possible. Walk at a steady pace for 20 minutes everyday. While walking just notice what is around you. Try to see the beauty or the story behind all you see. Even if a scene seems ugly or run down, give it positive attention by trying to find one good thing about what you see. If you can walking in a beautiful environment all the better, but don’t dismiss what’s on your doorstep. Taking time to really see what’s in your immediate environment may open a new and surprising world for you.
*In one new study, 78 healthy but sedentary men were studied during nine months of regular exercise. The men exercised for 60 minutes a day, three days a week. Every man in the study reported significantly enhanced sexuality, including increased frequency, performance and satisfaction. www.healthynewage.com www.qfac.com/articles/sexercise.html
Tips – Walking is one of the best exercises you can take. – Walk for 20 mins every day – It’s just as possible to take a walk in an urban wasteland as it is to walk in the country so try to see the beauty and the story in all locations.
KEY OVERALL TIP – HAVE TECHNOLOGY TIME-OUTS!
The beauty of our world is that many of the solutions I have touched on are inexpensive and easy to implement. Yes, something very basic does need to change in our homes and it needs to happen all over the world. But it can do so in a matter of seconds. All it takes is to press the “off” button on all the gadgets and to flick on the inner button of “responsibility”.
Parents – you’ll find it easier, not harder, to juggle work and parenting responsibilities when you teach your children how to occupy themselves without always having to be entertained by gadgets and iNannys!. They will be more creative, less demanding and less hyperactive. They will, in a word, be more responsible, and the world will be a freer place as a result.