The Forgotten Art of Spacing Out

If there’s one thing I’m really good at, it’s spacing out.

Not looking at a screen. Not getting anything done. Not listening to a self-improvement podcast or reading a book about what to do next.

When I wake up, after I get back from a run. When I’m not sure what to do, I just stare into space.

It’s taken some work to get back into the habit, but I now that I’m doing it again, I think I like it.

I’ve been doing it most of my life. I was great at it even when I was young. When I was a baby, it was pretty much all I did. In middle school and high school, I was always looking for an excuse to sneak away and space out. On lunch breaks and independent studies, I’d go to the library, find a quiet space, and just stare at the wall. In college, too.

In my 20s, though, I was diagnosed with ADHD. They gave me some pills that sped up my heart and my brain. This had the effect of making me much better at staring at a computer all day. But I also think it had the unwanted side effect of making me less likely to stare at a wall all day. At the time, though, I think I was too busy to notice.

By focusing on work more, some things got better for me. I got a prestigious job, and I made a lot of money. From an outside point of view, I was doing well. But I didn’t like it that much. Everything was such a big damned rush. When I was working, when I wasn’t working. It didn’t feel natural to me.

In 2006, I got my first blackberry. In 2008, I got my first iPhone. And then I got all these apps that fed me a constant stream of new information. In 2009 and 2010, I probably checked Twitter an average of 50 times a day.

Looking back at it, for all the information I was getting fed, I can’t remember much of what I learned. I’m sure I was getting something out of it.

But in retrospect, it’s all a bit of fog. A fog of information.

In 2010, I went off my meds. My heart and mind slowed down. In 2012, I quit my job. In 2013, I started meditating regularly.

Around that time, I think I recovered the lost art of spacing out. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have so much to do anymore. Maybe it’s because I was less focused on work. Maybe’s it’s because I wasn’t on drugs that made me “focus.”

Nowadays, I keep my phone in airplane mode 95% of the time. Nothing in. Nothing out. My number is 720-635-5503. Feel free to text or call. Unless you’re my mom or my wife, I won’t answer.

Having my phone and other devices in forced hermit settings gives me the time and the space to do what I do best: Space out (or when circumstances demand, to focus).

I have read that there are some benefits to spacing out. That those who don’t check their phones obsessively have better attention spans and less anxiety.

Maybe that’s true. Maybe it’s not. But to me, spacing out is not a means to an end. Absent other confounding variables, spacing out will not make you rich; it will not give you six-pack abs. Spacing out, to use Kantian terminology, is an end-in-itself.

That’s another way of saying that spacing out is inherently valuable. It’s taking a moment in time and declaring, consciously or unconsciously, that nothing else matters other than this moment in time. That maybe we don’t need to be mainlining more extraneous information into our brains all the waking hours of the day.

Spacing out is when we allow ourselves to appreciate the wonder of the very fact that we are alive. After all, we won’t be forever.

What could be more important than that?