As I write this, I am sitting on the balcony of our sweet little condo in Scottsdale, Az. It is late May and the white-wing doves are nesting in the willow tree that shades my perch. They flap and coo, their throaty sounds a comforting burble.
They are ground feeders and, tails flashing, the cote struts and pecks beneath the tree in the gravel alongside the cement paths that wind through our complex.
They are more graceful than the desert quail that stagger and urgently zig zag hither and thither, the chicks in seemingly random disarray. It seems to me the quail call undue attention to themselves with these antics. Certainly, they’ve got mine. I am fascinated by the habits of my avian neighbours.
What else do I notice? The jacaranda trees have finished blooming, and as their feathery leaves catch the hot desert breeze, blossoms fly and scatter like purple snow. Now and then, a desert cottontail hops by. If not for the movement, it would be invisible against the landscape.
It dawns on me, as I sit on the balcony – the temperature a perfect 26 degrees, doves cooing – that while it may appear I am doing nothing, I have actually harnessed the attention needed to engage in detailed observation. I also notice that I feel calm. Serene, even.
Time spent in contemplative observation feeds the soul. I know I need silence and mental space to thrive and I think this is true for most of us.
Brenda Ueland, in her 1938 book If You Want to Write: a Book about Art, Independence and Spirit, called this form of happy idleness ‘moodling’ and considered it critical component of the creative process.
She said: “The imagination needs moodling – long, inefficient happy idling, dawdling and puttering.”
My fear, in our digital age, is that we are losing our ability to disengage from devices and indulge in simple contemplation. We are forgetting how to moodle.
As I sit on my peaceful balcony, the iPhone gleams beckoningly. I am working on my laptop where pings, notifications, reminders, and all manner of time-saving technology does its automated job.
There is an implied urgency in constant connectedness. We’ve become trained to jump to the digital demands of our devices. We fill the spaces between our daily tasks and duties with screen-time, surrendering to a steady stream of random inputs, designed to distract us.
Our attention is a hot commodity, and the Internet is insatiable in its quest to mine our time.
What is our time worth?
It is up to us to decide how much we value the opportunity to dawdle and putter, to spend time in our own imaginations, or to pursue hobbies or activities that require solitude and a kind of soulful rigour.
For me, time spent in actual contemplation is precious beyond measure. I am reminded by the doves, the twitchy quail, and the wind in the trees, that we are connected to the literal world, the world of touch and taste and sound. It’s a beautiful place, worthy of attention, endlessly fascinating.