"A century and a half ago, Kierkegaard argued that this impulse to escape the present by keeping ourselves busy is our greatest source of unhappiness. We jump on the hamster wheel of activity early in life. As the thinking self develops, we are less and less able to tolerate periods of boredom, moments or times when nothing is happening, and we don't know what to do with ourselves. In other words, when nothing is happening, we feel that we are not happening.
"Can we resist the desire to take the phone along with us on our walk? Can we sit quietly for half an hour without doing anything? The feeling of our presence is the richest gift we can offer ourselves. Those 'empty' moments – in the traffic jam, the checkout line, the airport lounge – can sometimes offer us a further gift. If we don't run from them, if we rest in them and let them take us where they will, we may find that they connect us to a deeper well, a source of creative ideas and inspirations that erupts from behind the conscious mind.
"Writers know this well. A large part of my writing time is spent lying on the sofa looking out of the window, walking around the room, or perhaps going for a walk in the woods outside. You can only stare at the blank screen for so long. Sometimes the gates open and the words come pouring onto the screen. At other times it is best to do nothing, to look the other way, so to speak. 'I only went out for a walk,' John Muir said, 'and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.'
"Our greatest art, the most enduring ideas of philosophy, the spark for every technological breakthrough – originated in moments of reflective contemplation, of absolute presence within the universe of one's own mind and absolute attentiveness to life outside it, be it Galileo inventing the modern clock after watching a pendulum swing in a cathedral or Oliver Sacks having seminal insights into the power of music on the human mind while hiking in a Norwegian fjord."