Killing Time

I just read that children's author Robert Louis Stevenson once said that a person should be able to wait for a train for two or three hours with nothing to read and not be bored. Our own thoughts should be able to entertain us. I think that striving for this state is a noble goal.

I live in Canada, and I grew up in America. These have got to be two of the most convenient places on Earth. But we're humans, and if there's one thing humans do well it's habituate. As such, Americans get just as (or perhaps even more) frustrated with waiting than other cultures.

You can't always rely on the company of other people, electricity, or books. I was reminded of this a few years ago when I had to endure a three hour bus ride through Jamaica at night. There was no one to talk to; I had no book, and it was so dark outside I could not see a thing. I was stuck there, awake, in the dark, with nothing but my own thoughts.

I think it's good for people to develop strategies for dealing with waiting. I think you should make some for yourself. In the remainder of this entry I'll share some of mine.

1. Smart phones
A smart phone is great when you have to wait. On my phone, I can read novels (I always have at least one on there that I'm reading), play games*, listen to music, and write. The fact that the phone is always on me is a great comfort.Make sure some of the games you download are for two players (e.g., chess, connect four, trivial pursuit) for when you're with other bored people.
    However, cell phones lose power, get left places, and I tend to get motion sick on road vehicles, so I need other strategies.

2. Meditation
If I've got time to kill I'll often do a half an hour of meditation. See my previous post on this topic.

3. Mentally Simulating Things I Want To Know How To Do
I recently read Neil Strauss's book Emergency and it's very entertaining. It got me interested in survival skills. That book was good, a how-to book with pictures is better, and youtube videos are the best. Here are some good ones:
     How to Make a Fish Trap:
     How to Make Shelter in the woods:
Anyway, sometimes when I am trying to get to sleep, or find myself with nothing to do, I mentally rehearse these activities. Though imagination cannot completely substitute for practicing the real thing, many studies show that it's often just as good. This has been shown for over 30 sports, for example.
     So if there's some skill that's important to you (exiting your house in a fire, martial arts forms, updating your webpage after a publication, tennis) you can mentally practice it.

4. Planning
Think about your goals. Think about the goals you have that are not active, and imagine what you would do to achieve them. This can be inspiring and productive work.

5. Reminiscing
Give yourself exercises to remember your past to entertain yourself. Here are some ideas:
    a) pick a trip you took, and try to recreate the events as best you can
    b) imagine as vividly as possible walking through places you've lived (inside the house and in the neighborhood)
    c) pick a long-time friend and try to choose your happiest memory of being with them.
You get the idea.

6. The Letter Game
Look at some object in your area. Name it. What is the first letter in the name? Choose another word that starts with that letter. Formulate your opinion on something to do with that word. When you've exhausted that, go to the next letter of the alphabet and repeat.
    For example: I am on my sofa, and I looked at a flower. That's "f." Another word that starts with F is flagellate. This reminds me of self-flagellation I saw in the movie The Fountain. It's metaphorical, for me, of how people feel guilty and feel the need to punish themselves. I know people who do this and it makes their lives worse.
    I could go on and on--- I could write a blog entry on that, and I picked it randomly. I developed this strategy from improv, in which we make scenes from random audience suggestions.
    I actually developed this for boring moments with my wife, who is not a boring person by anyone's standards. But no matter how great your relationship is, after a while you'll run out of things to talk about in some circumstances. We were bored at a bar together and I came up with this game. We'd take turns with letters, generate words, and share our opinions about them. We had fun and learned new things about each other. Think about what you could talk about with your friend or partner with a list of words you could generate, such as:
   Hot Air Balloon
   Junk Removal
   Omniscience, etc.

The mind is a terrible thing to waste. So is time. That is all.

PicturedTom, a resident in Vancouver's downtown eastside ghetto, passing the time in front of an unused storefront; Vancouver BC Canada.

* I'm very excited that you can purchase applications on android phones now in Canada. I bought "Devilry Huntress" and I love it.

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Daniel said…
"You cannot kill time without injuring eternity."
A favourite from Thoreau

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