Alan Lightman

In Praise of Wasting Time

“Instead of trying to empty my mind, as one does in meditation, and letting my thoughts drift by like moving clouds, I followed my thoughts, but in an unhurried and liberated way.”

Alan Lightman (b. 1948) holds a dual humanities and physics professorship at MIT. He has written of the grandeur of the universe and the most intimate human emotions. He is a bright, curious thinker and an engaging writer.

Lightman’s In Praise of Wasting Time does more than extol the benefits of time wasting, breaks, tempering pace, and play. With colorful research and personal examples Lightman argues our natures have changed with technology. He demonstrates how the mind forms different connections and ideas when untethered and unminded. Consequently we need to activate breaks deliberately.

Certainly helpful is Lightman’s exploration of what we gain in moments of play. He was able to approach a real “renewal and consolidation of identity” by letting his mind wander. Whatever we might achieve in play, it does not take much to reap the rewards.

Read more on the benefits of rest and repose on the creative mind in Thoreau’s A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers and Oliver Sack’s proposal of a Sabbath as something we must keep sacred, however we can.