There is a contradiction in writing about the need for time to be spent at doing nothing, and the busyness that comes from having to express these thoughts in a few pages. Is like the mere contemplation and realization of being able to enjoy the act of not being focused in a single task (work, study or just simply a self-imposed deadline), is by itself a way to focus the mind.
I guess this is the way several meditation techniques work, where the main point of focus is to not focus on anything in particular, and if anything, only on the fact that you are consciously able just to observe, and like an omnipresent narrator, watch from above all things moving and arranging each other, with your contribution of just being a spectator. Feeling your heart bump, hearing your own breathing, consciously feeling the weight on your feet while you walk. Usually, just trivial things but when used to concentrate the mind an incredible variety of experiences suddenly becomes available.
In thermodynamics there is the concept of ‘entropy’, which is defined more or less as the level of disorder in a system. That concept has been borrowed in many areas of science to describe random systems that either needs a level of entropy to function, or that are thrown in disarray by entropy itself. My introduction to the concept was by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi seminal work “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience” where he describes ‘Psychic Entropy’ as a natural tendency of the mind to go looking for something to focus on when at rest or unoccupied. The mind seems to be designed to work inefficiently when not focused in an activity, and therefore, when completely absorbed by one (sports, music, meditation, work and many others) an individual can reach a stage of enjoyment through effort, which is so fulfilling that can only be described as Flow, or a temporary order that just carries you away. This state of the mind can be achieved from the smallest and trivial of tasks, to the ones that probably required a lifetime of dedication. Flow is momentary, but it seems to stretch longer and is easier to be achieved once someone gets to master a task, taken a bit further can even guide a life of directed effort, or a sense that every activity has to have a meaning towards a long-term purpose, like a self-imposed mission where every second of a life is dedicated towards. Entropy and Flow, become like opposing forces that are part of a whole, when not in flow, entropy is throwing everything in disarray, when in flow entropy is channeled to an action. Like energy that is never destroyed but just shifts from a state to the other, the mind seems to have the same dynamism or psychic energy, that gets it to move in search of a something, or just simply randomly and unintentionally look for one in the chaos.
To give a higher value of being busy towards a clear and visible goal over just spending time seemingly unoccupied and contemplating things from an observer point of view, seems to be an unspoken rule about how the energy of the mind is supposed to be directed. Maybe, like with many other things that we can see, touch or just rationalize; concrete and visible efforts are assumed to be more real and present than any other alternative kind. In the constant doing, or constant search to keep you busy and maintain some sense of cohesion about your actions, the element of surprise, mind wandering, dreams or just pauses and contemplation is usually overlooked. Because the mind have a hard time keeping itself focused all the time, these pauses or time out just to think without a purpose, actually help disparaged thoughts to be put together unconsciously — like in a dream, while having a shower, or reading a book. The conscious and specific driven effort gives a clear path of action, but takes away many alternatives to be able to focus the mind, and is sometimes these alternatives where the paths of mastery, enjoyment and flow are found. Going through a life without any distractions and seemingly having a single goal to attain is an ideal we like to read about, and like to see in people, almost like a social norm, but in reality, is more a series of accidents, random events, and a lot of hindsight storytelling that make it look that way.
It seems, that as with the directed and consciously crafted tasks; the ones about just letting your mind wander and focused on actually being unoccupied also require a level of mastery and practice that by itself is a conscious effort to search for the state of mind where the serendipity of things can have a space to happen and eureka moments can be more common. Allowing for the forces of psychic entropy to go loose, consciously, is a fun exercise for some and scary one for many. In reality, they are never completely on the loose, not even in the deepest stages of meditation or introspection. Allowing to practice with your own thoughts and focusing them for brief moments, could be a good training ground when looking to focus more than just thoughts; actions, people, systems, complexity.
Like a body that need fasting to clear its bowels and the whole system from remaining toxic elements, the mind seems to need uncluttering of thoughts for a space of time just to be able to work at its peak. There is no continuous psychic effort without losing key qualities of useful thinking. In his latest work writing to a mainstream public, “Thinking Fast and Slow” Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, describes the workings of a fast mind (system 1) constantly propping to action and bringing aspects, related or not so related, if the subject needs to make an instant choice, for more complicated tasks that cannot be solved impromptu the slow mind (system 2) is used for the job, and like a slowly maturing substance, it goes churning the possibilities using conscious and unconscious resources to come up with a solution. The slow mind is easily overloaded, it cannot work on more than a single thing at a time, so most of our choices, actions and thoughts are actually probably the work of ‘system 1’, recognizing similar patterns and bringing those to attention for a rapid action. The pause and cleansing of any stimulus of the mind is probably the only way to prompt the use of ‘system 2’ where the most rational and complex creation exercises can happen.
Like many other things that seem to be right just because the alternative looks wasteful and lacking organization, in regards to not keeping you busy, there is no waste about just observing, and reducing your focus to only a few things; letting the mind to wander aimlessly for a while, with no fear of getting lost — actually many people have found what they didn’t know they were looking for on this process. Silence is not lost time if it helps to produce the best sound when that is needed.