This post is about 3,200 words long and takes about twenty minutes to read.
Is there such a thing as intentional downtime?
Just the other day I was swapping emails with one of our great patrons who also works with me doing some consciousness development training. Like many of the Inception Publishing patrons, he is making consistent efforts day in and day out to relinquish fears, focus on what's truthful, and become super intentional in his thoughts and choices. In other words, he's making the choice to be Inceptional.
In the process of considering how to further fine tune his daily efforts, he asked a great question. In fact, it was such a great question, it occurred to me that there's probably many of you that may have exactly the same question. So, I decided to make my next Coherence Verification report an expansion of my answer to him, thus providing you with the benefit of the information as well.
Here was the essence of his thoughtful inquiry:
"I notice my mood and well-being seems to actually drop on many weekends due to not focusing on anything in particular. Part of it is me resting after not getting enough sleep [during the week] but there is downtime where I just don't really feel like moving, and sit around a little too much. Some relaxation is good but too much doesn't seem good for me. If I'm going to be lounging around on a weekend I try to at least read and get some chores done, but I'd like to find other activities."
I totally get what he means. There is a somewhat delicate balance between always preoccupying yourself with action, and spending too much time in stillness. Sometimes we are just kind of "burnt out," and don't feel like doing a ton of activities, but we aren't actually feeling like being a vegetable sitting in front of the television or computer watching a twenty-six hour Breaking Bad marathon.
Essentially, we all have times where we desire stress-free productivity, that also isn't particularly demanding. While there is no absolute balance to this downtime dilemma, because it’s more of a moving target than a defined state, there must be something useful to do during those not-so-motivated times, right?
To begin to answer this energy expenditure question, I started considering options. What about some meditation, I thought? Our patron friend had considered this.
"…lets just say I'm not feeling up too much and just want to chill. I would think meditation or just a present moment awareness of being would be better than sitting around thinking right?"
Makes sense, but some days, even meditation can feel a bit like work. Also, some of you, like this patron, have a meditation or awareness practice that you already do daily. So what then? Do you just stare at the ceiling like a stoned cat? Maybe imbibe a little to relax and quiet the brain while you indulge in fifteen hours of Game of Thrones? Possibly round up some of your peeps to allow the socialization to take you away from your own mind?
Is there a beneficial, intentional way we can spend some downtime? Or, is the idea of intentional downtime a bit like a unicorn? You can imagine it, but no one's actually shown you one in person.
It's a good question, and one I've thought about professionally, and personally. I too encounter times when I just want to be mellow, without having to "work." There are also times when the body just needs to regroup, but the mind still seems fairly engaged. When these times arise, there are beneficial options, I swear. I've developed some strategies over the years that can be helpful. For the sake of brevity, we'll call them, "Downtime Practices."
Following are seven entirely simple and useful practices for you to use during downtime. They are all mindfulness activities that require little energy, no money, and can be done in a few minutes, or even an hour or two. Try one or two by themselves, or feel free to combine a few of them together to create your own personally perfect downtime practice. No unicorns or assembly required.
You wouldn't think we'd have to practice breathing given its critical role in our survival. Yet, most people do not breathe thoroughly during relaxation periods, never mind during stressful times. In the stress reduction work I do with clients, I routinely find that most are only getting about 85-90% of the oxygen they actually need to feel well, and function optimally. Breathing is as basic as it gets, so it makes sense to start using downtime as an opportunity to train ourselves to breathe thoroughly.
Conscious, slowed breathing is unquestionably valuable for increasing focus, diminishing stress, becoming more in tune with the body, and prepping for consistently applied intention. So, if you have twenty or thirty minutes where you just want to be casual and groovy while improving your overall experience, then get breathing!
While not technically meditation, taking just 15-20 minutes per day to slow breathing and only concentrate on that, while allowing all thoughts to be released, is a great brain training and body rejuvenation. Here's a few easy, useful steps to follow:
- Sit comfortably, but in an upright position. Pillows supporting the low back can be helpful.
- A quiet environment is helpful, but not mandatory. I find having headphones on with some very mellow music is enjoyable too.
- Close your eyes, or find a fixed point to focus the eyes on. Begin by inhaling slowly through the nose, holding the breath for two seconds, then exhaling slowly through the mouth. The inhale and exhale timing isn't crucial, but should be five or more seconds in length. Repeat this slow breathing for a few moments.
- As you continue breathing, deepen the inhaling gradually until you comfortably feel the lungs fully filling and emptying. The key achievement is comfort and depth. Don't make it complex or rigid. Just relax into it.
- As thoughts arise, simply allow them to pass by with no engagement, as though they were boring billboards on the side of a road you are driving along. Do not try to make the thoughts disappear, just allow them to slip away. Again, ease is the key.
After about 15 minutes of this practice, one of three feelings will be noticed. You might feel very tired. This is fine, and is just the way your body is telling you that you could use some additional rest. That means you can take a 30 minute nap, or perhaps just get to bed early that night.
You may feel energized and ready to get some things done. This indicates you have helped the body rebound and can move onto some intentional action.
Finally, it's possible you have noticed some level of distress in your thoughts and emotions. This is useful as well as it is a recognition of your underlying state of mind. In this case you can spend a few more minutes breathing and releasing the emotions that have arisen. The Writing Practice below is also useful during these times.
One fairly compelling thing to do (whether as a separate practice or in conjunction with the Breathing Practice) is to just grab some scratch paper or a notebook and write down everything that comes to mind when you have some “spare time.” Seriously, just blurt it all out on paper without any judgment or restriction. It doesn't matter how inconsequential or gruesome the content of the thoughts might be, just scribble it down. (By the way, this is best done with pen and paper versus the computer.)
What this does is it forces you to consciously confront thoughts as they arise, which then makes it easier to let them go. There is a distinctive evaluative process that the brain goes through when seeing information in writing rather than just "hearing it" in your mind. Too often we just accept our thoughts as valid when they are running around the mind. Put those same thoughts on paper, and they look kind of crazy, or at least petty. When you go through this evaluation it affords you the more lucid opportunity to define whether the thoughts are in alignment with your more useful intentions. If not, just let it all go. If the thoughts are aligned with your intentions, then these are great for further contemplation.
As an alternative to this stream of consciousness barfing, I often suggest personal journaling. Personal journaling is similar to keeping a diary. Journaling about your experiences has been amazingly productive for some of my clients. This is a great learning tool because you can go back and ‘connect the dots’ between emotions and thought. Too often we lose track of how we have connected emotions and thoughts, and this forgetfulness keeps us from learning where fears and other counter-productive thoughts originate. Without that connectivity it is difficult to amend habits.
Just to be perfectly clear, a huge portion of the training work I do with clients is helping them connect how certain thoughts generate certain emotions. This is something you can do on your own though. I'm more than happy to have you pay me to help you through the process, but it is a process that you can practice during productive downtime on your own.
Nothing beats spending some regular time contemplating what you are grateful for and really feeling that deeply regenerative energy arise in the body. I find that even the short moments when I stop to appreciate what I have and experience is almost like plugging right into the Joy power plant. This is an amazingly simple practice that can be done in the mind or in writing. Seriously, this is like free energy.
Just get comfortable, and start looking around. Have you recently appreciated refrigeration? Are you regularly enjoying your pet, regardless of the daily poop patrol? Have you told your significant other how great they are? When was the last time you were just grateful for the magical event that is your body, especially given what you put it through? Keep looking around your environment for every thing, person, being, plant, convenience, and condition, then, say, "Thank you!"
Here's what happens when you do this: You fundamentally shift your entire energetic quality into one of the highest states you get to experience as a human being. No hyperbole, full stop. Nothing places you into the beautiful combinative energy of humility, appreciation, wonder, and openness, like just stopping everything, and being grateful. It is certainly one of the greatest things you can do with your downtime.
Intention application practice.
Another useful mental activity, that can also be done in writing, is to imagine the different situations you regularly find yourself in, and consider what intentional states you want to cultivate, and what actions will support those intentions in each situation.
I find this to be an excellent “planning” practice. For example, let’s say you want to be super accepting of the behavior of your boss regardless of his or her choices. What might you choose if the boss is harsh with you? What might you choose if the boss is critical of you? What might you choose if the boss is unfair with you? Predetermining your intentional choices is like planning for energetic success in advance, and can train the mind into these better states through practice, like an actor practicing his or her scene in preparation for opening night on stage. Stated more directly:
PLAN AHEAD FOR INNER AND OUTER SUCCESS!
Downtime is always great preparation time. Enacting choices based on the intentional states you want to cultivate isn't accomplished by accident. Intentionality is reached through contemplation, preparation, and practice. If you have a spare hour or two that isn't already filled with intentional activity, then you have time to prep for the next moment of intention application. I can't think of a more effective use of downtime, and it really requires very little effort.
Bias alert! This is one of my favorite options. If you have time to lounge, then you have time to learn! I enjoy taking in many types of information from educational resources. Beneficial and truthful podcasts, documentaries, science shows, blog posts, deep news coverage, and seminars are plentiful and highly accessible today. There's never been a better time to be alive if you are interested in learning. All downtime can become relaxing educational time. If you have an hour or two, check out some thoughtful information online, on a streaming service, or on your cable provider.
There are multiple definable benefits to this option. First, it doesn't take much energy. Grab a snack, kick back, and enjoy the fact that someone else has worked to provide you with great information.
Second, a brain that is regularly learning objective information, is a brain that is moving towards greater health and increased consciousness quality.
Third, you can have guilt free relaxation! I certainly don't ever advocate the creation of guilt, but if you tend toward self-judgment when you are supposed to be taking some time off (as I used to do in the past), then learn something while you are flopped on the couch! You can relax all you want, and know that the mind has been stimulated.
Fourth, you avoid mental laziness. Too many of us don't keep the mind engaged daily. Much of work and life is redundant, and requires little to no intellectual stretching. Just like muscles, the brain is always healthier when being stretched. So, take in some information that may not require much of the body, but does allow you to exercise the intellect.
Understanding ourselves requires clarity of observation. The problem is that we tend to see things through a lens of judgments, editorial comments, dislikes, preferences, and fears. Rarely do we give ourselves the chance to see the world around us as it is, without comment, resistance, or condemnation. We must discontinue the habit of seeing the world around us through these clouded lenses if we are to develop acceptance of circumstances, other people and eventually, ourselves.
Some effort in practice is required to eliminate this skewed viewing. When you have available downtime, practicing seeing and accepting the world around you as it is, or what I like to call "perspicuity" (look it up, it's a real word), will assist in the elimination of the habit of distorting observation. The steps are quite simple. While sitting, walking, cycling, hiking, or any lone activity when you can engage your thoughts, simply isolate one item or happening at a time, and accept it regardless of its state or condition. If you notice judgments or other thoughts arising, simply choose to let them go, and actively accept. It goes something like this:
You: "I see a vase of flowers on the table here in front of me, and I accept them."
Crazy person in your head: "What? Are you blind? Those flowers are old and dying. They look terrible! Why haven't you tossed those dead, skanky things yet? What are you, some kind of lazy slouch? What if someone comes over to visit? They'll think you're a slob, or some kind of creepy cat lady that keeps dead flowers around, and then the gig will be up! Then that person will go tell the rest of your friends that you are slipping in your old age, and are probably clinically depressed because you are keeping dead garbage in the living room! Dammit, I'm becoming a hoarder like aunt Betty was…it's only a matter of time before I start stacking old newspapers in the kitchen, and stockpiling empty milk jugs and car parts, and then I'll trip and fall and the newspapers stacks will fall on me and I'll be trapped and die of starvation in my own house! Ahhhhhhhhhhh!"
You: "Well, never mind that hysteria. I see a vase of flowers on the table here in front of me and I accept them."
Does that conversation sound familiar? If it doesn't, that's probably only because you don't have an aunt Betty that was a hoarder. You see, we have been taught to misuse the mind by constantly commenting on things and events instead of just accepting the temporary condition of things as it is currently. This is incredibly stressful, a waste of energy, and that same weapon gets turned ourselves and our bodies countless times per day. Silencing the crazy person in your head is vital for calm awareness, and feeling well. The Perspicuity practice is an opportunity to use downtime to exile the crazy person slowly, but surely.
Let's wrap up with a shameless plug! Yes, if you have some downtime, then read (or re-read) the Inception Publishing blog posts! Seriously, each post is designed to provide you with critical truths, perspective, and helpful actions, so you can't go wrong spending a little downtime delving into the ever expanding, Inceptional blogosphere! To date, there's about 55,000 juicy words in the blog page for you to confront, contemplate, and consider. That's like a 150 page book there for you to read for free, be stimulated by, and comment on (I do respond to all thoughtful comments). I can't think of many other useful ways to spend your time, but there's a slight chance I am somewhat biased in this matter.
You're allowed a break
Before we complete this entirely practical post, I want to make one last vital point. You are allowed a break. In fact, many of you will likely benefit as much from a do-nothing afternoon on the porch with a glass of lemonade, as you will with one or more of these downtime practices. You are allowed to rest, so please do so when you are tired.
This is a lesson I had to learn quite a few years ago as I, like many of us, was somewhat addicted to activity as a way of escaping the fears I was creating. Sitting quietly on my own was a little like a form of medieval torture to me, even if I was exhausted. After about five minutes of being mellow, my internal crazy person would start to run absolutely wild and I'd have to jump up and go do something in order to hide from the lunatic. This was not a useful option.
I was neither allowing myself to rest, nor was I confronting and relinquishing the fears. I was in a constant state of running, and it was killing me, literally. The only thing that helped, was that I eventually ran towards some simple awareness and fear resolution practices. Only when I allowed myself to use downtime intentionally, did it cease being a torture. I hope this set of seven practices will help you to relieve the self-torture that happens sometimes, and give you permission to rest when needed.
Thank you for reading, and cheers to you and your Inceptionality!