The Gift of Stillness in a Hyperactive World
Here’s a question for you, and I want you to answer it carefully.
When’s the last time you simply sat still?
By that I mean just you, and your mind, with no outside influence or stimulation. This question is kind of a litmus test for how well a person manages their time and their stress.
I’ll be honest: I struggle with sitting still. I just can’t do it. And all the times I thought I was perfectly fine sitting alone, turns out listening to podcasts, scrolling through Twitter or watching YouTube videos don’t count as truly sitting still no matter how much you try to spin it.
Whenever I have a moment of silence, I feel the need to fill it with something. Every walk I take, I feel compelled to give it a purpose, whether it’s contributing to my daily step count or accomplishing a specific goal. Every book or article I read must have the potential to inspire my own writing. On top of that, I spend a lot of time thinking about how to fill my time which is inefficient at best, and downright disruptive at worst.
Well, according to the Japanese, it turns out that I do not possess Ma. (Not quite yet anyway).
So what exactly is “Ma”…
We’ve all heard of being “zen” but “Ma” is quite different. Ma is a Japanese idea that refers to negative space, a pause in time. It doesn’t just apply to physical aspects like drawings or architecture but also to life in general. Ma is about creating space for doing nothing, for embracing idleness, and not overwhelming our overstimulated minds with more content, noise, or constant activity.
Ma’s benefits are sky-high, stratospheric even; it allows us to tap into our creativity and even find inner peace. At this point, you might be thinking “sounds nice, I could definitely make some time for that.”
But here’s the kicker: Embracing Ma contradicts the norms of our efficiency culture.
Nowadays, there are countless voices promoting the idea that we must always be productive, squeezing the juice out of every second of our day. If we’re not constantly hustling, we’re made to believe that we’re not ambitious or dedicated enough to succeed. Our lives have become so streamlined towards being successful that there’s little room for just being.
We’re taught that stopping to smell the roses, staring out at the tide, or taking a moment to ourselves is a symptom of being lazy. We’re expected to fill our time from morning till night with self-improvement and optimization. Ironically, all this maximization hasn’t led to the promised health, wealth, and happiness. Instead, anxiety levels are high, and we feel overwhelmed and overburdened. We lack peace.
It might seem like a total snore-fest, especially for those of us more extroverted and adventurous. But even the most fun-loving people have a feeling that deep down, the in-between space in our days is when something curious happens….
For me, this usually happens while I’m in the shower, or when I forget to take my earphones with me outside. It’s in these in-between moments, where it’s just me and my thoughts, that I feel the most creative and tranquil. These are true moments of clarity for me — when I’m brimming with ideas and my mental state is flowing freely.
Due to the demands of my job as a startup founder, I’m what you call a “frequent flier” — going from San Francisco to Canada when necessary. However, during my recent flights, I’ve been trying out something different. Instead of downloading movies or engaging in in-flight entertainment, I bring along my laptop without Wi-Fi and a journal.
It’s amazing how ideas start flowing, especially when I secure a window seat with a breathtaking view. Embracing those moments of negative space, such as during flights, brings forth a flood of ideas and a profound sense of peace — something that’s hard to come by when you’re constantly in a state of hustling and grinding.
So where exactly am I going with this?
Here at my company Neurosity, we’ve really passionate about our product The Crown. It’s a wearable brain- computer-interface that allows you to shift into focus when you need to. Perhaps more importantly for the point I’m making here, is that it allows you to take some time away from your busy schedule and simply pause.
The concept of “Ma” is seamlessly integrated into The Crown. Whether you want to meditate or simply disconnect from the world for a little while, our device enables you to shift into a different headspace.
Even more remarkable, once you’ve taken the time you need for yourself, The Crown assists you in returning to a more focused state. This makes it perfect for students, people busy at work, and even founders and managers.
I’ve been using The Crown to do exactly that. I block out time to meditate or simply rest my mind, and then I kick back into gear when I’m ready to take on my work.
The results have been tremendous so far, I never feel overwhelmed or burned out. And I seriously implore everyone to try to fit some “Ma” into their lives.
In fact, this is a concept that trickles down into every facet of our business focus. I cultivate a culture where my team members are free to take time for themselves. I recognize the magic that alone time affords us: more inner peace, more creativity and a nice recharge after a long working day.
If you feel overwhelmed and believe there’s no room for Ma in your busy life, consider this: if you have time for scrolling through TikTok or watching three hours of TV every day, you have time for Ma.
Promise yourself to try at least one of these ideas:
Go for a solitary walk without any distractions like podcasts or other self-improvement gadgets, and instead, focus on the benefits of moving your body.
On your next flight, bring a journal instead of a movie.
When you find yourself waiting in line, resist the temptation to check your email; instead, indulge in some people watching.
Limit yourself to capturing just one or two photographs at the next event you attend, and dedicate the rest of your time to fully experiencing and enjoying the moment.
Read purely for pleasure, without the intention of self-improvement.
It’s not easy, so if you like a challenge — consider this your next great feat.
If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out our company Twitter page:@neurosity or even my own personal Twitter page:@Andrewjaykeller