11 July 2014

Can you spend time alone, doing nothing?

I am in Germany for 3 months visiting another lab. So, after many years, I am living by myself, in a new culture and new work environment. After having the luxury of living 5 mins away from work, I now have to face a daily commute of 50 mins, providing plenty of time sitting on the bus, or sitting around waiting for the bus. This is also my first experience of living in a country where shops are closed on Sundays and most close by 8pm otherwise. Suddenly, activities like going to work or shopping has to work around timetables.

Consequently, a lot of alone time.

Last week there was a report in Science magazine, that if left alone for 6 -15 mins with nothing to do, human beings would rather give themselves electric shocks rather than sit around and think. Basically, we love a distraction!

I remember reading somewhere that it was a sign of deep happiness if you can be alone and not feel lonely. Which at least thus far, I do not. Yes, I do have time to ponder about where I am in life and all that, but it is hardly causing me heartburn. But I do feel that opportunities like these for self-discovery come rarely, so how best to make use of it?

One art which I want to practice is that of mindful eating. I came across this idea of "mindfulness" by Thich Nhat Hanh, where you are urged to live every moment fully conscious of how you are feeling. A state of complete awareness. And one area where I want to do this is eating. If I am eating alone, I don't just eat, I have to read something while eating. It's a deeply ingrained behavioural circuit for me: shovel something into my mouth, while completely submerged in a text of some sort.

I am starting the mindful eating with breakfast sessions, because they are the shortest and it only helps if I finish faster, so I can catch the bus. Day 1 of mindful eating was interesting - after 5 minutes, I realized I was reading things on the milk and cereal carton, even though they are in German! So today, I had to clear the table of all reading material. I still haven't done any mindful eating though. I pretty much spent time thinking about experiments and "breaking bad", a show I am watching. But the intent is there - let's see if I can make mindful breakfast eating a routine.

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