Solitary time is missing from our daily schedules. Those restorative, reflective moments when we can appreciate, take stock, problem-solve, meditate, or pray have been eclipsed by smart phones, shared calendars (that others shoehorn appointments into for us) and a general feeling that time must be filled to be functional.
But let’s not be trite. “Time is money” is so 1980s. So Michael Douglas in Wall Street.
Today, time is no longer compared to money or even precious metals. (Silence, however, may still be golden.) Today, time is “our most precious resource.” Not because there is less of it, but because most of us over-commit.
We corner ourselves with so many tasks that we begin to say inane things like, “I can’t afford to take a break.” Impressive, right?
Dr. Herb Benson of Harvard University was one of the first researchers to scientifically document the benefits of the relaxation response, the physiologically and emotionally calming result of closing one’s eyes, breathing slowly from the abdomen, and gently releasing muscle tension.
The relaxation response is the common substrate in all meditative traditions. It lowers blood pressure, increases feelings of wellness, and prolongs life.
Research on the relaxation response suggests, somewhat ironically, that those people who are really interested in having more time–on the order of years, not just minutes–should not saturate their diaries. Instead, they should take a daily 10-minute time-out.
We all should. Heck, we’d live longer.
For all of its rustic roots aimed at removing young people from the hustle and bustle of urban life, we camp folk have wandered from our bucolic baseline. These days, camp promo videos make it abundantly clear that life in the woods resembles a rock concert more than a tranquil retreat.
Have we unwittingly substituted one brand of hustle and bustle for another?
We all love our special brand of excitement, and I applaud camp program directors who create thrilling activities. However, I cringe when rest hour involves no rest, unstructured play is eschewed, and campers are dashed from place to place without a moment to themselves.
We have Six Flags to turn to for rave-level frenzy. Why not temper the pace of camp life?
Why indeed. What would parents say if they saw “free time” on the daily schedule? How would staff and campers respond if we insisted that they spend rest hour in total silence? If either of these questions makes you wince, it may reveal your prejudice against solitude. The fact is, a bit of down time does a body good.
This summer, consider leveraging the natural beauty of a leafy canopy, a starry sky, a breezy field, or a glistening waterfront by asking your staff to protect a few quiet moments each day with their campers.
Pack the rest of the day with exciting programs, but keep rest hour sacrosanct and give your staff permission to let each of their campers sit in solitude at least one other time per day. I guarantee that the contrast will make the rest of the day seem even more exciting.
And as an added bonus, directors who protect daily quiet time will see a decrease in camper impulsivity and staff burnout. What’s not to love about that plan?
All it takes is the courage to recognize that a fully packed daily schedule leaves no room for reflection and growth.
So, do you have what it takes to do nothing?
- Dr. Christopher Thurber