In Defense of Loafing

Yesterday I stumbled on Roman sitting alone in a field, daydreaming. I am struck by the considerable number of times I’ve seen him utterly spellbound on the blueberry farm, completely immersed in nature, appearing for all the world to be in power save mode.

I’ve been spot reading about attention lately: apparently, is a finite resource.* And when your environment makes too many demands on your internal processor (directed attention)**, mental fatigue follows - inability to concentrate, irritation, anxiety, stress eating. Because CHOCOLATE. (<— I think we can all agree that this is an acceptable form of therapy, yes?)

It seems that there are four types of attention:
    ⁃    Sustained: long term focus without distraction (Roman perma-loops garbage truck videos on YouTube with his headphones on.)
    ⁃    Selective: hiving off unwanted information (Roman, time to turn off the iPad! Roman continues to watch garbage truck videos.)
    ⁃    Alternating: switching between different cognitive stimuli (Roman watches garbage truck videos while mimicking specific actions in the real world with his toy trucks and homemade ripped paper trash.)
    ⁃    Divided: multi-tasking (Roman takes the iPad outside to pee while watching garbage truck videos.) *sigh*

To recap: Roman likes his iPad. But when he eventually tires of it, he goes outside and sits in the grass, or lolls about on the swing, or hangs with our dog.

Steven Kaplan wrote that “If you can find an environment where the attention is automatic, you allow directed attention to rest. And that means an environment that's strong on fascination.”*** So while too many demands on our neurons activate our monkey minds, idling relaxes us, allowing us to become fully self-regulated, absorbed, captivated, and enchanted.

Roman sees to this in nature. Some may call these loafing haltings mindfulness, being completely present in the moment. It could be that his brain is still running a program in the background though- I strongly suspect that he’s hiding his extra disc space.

Because as Matthew B. Crawford writes, “Attention is the thing that is most one’s own: in the normal course of things, we choose to pay attention to, and in a very real sense this determines what is real for us.” **** And even though Roman hasn’t yet had the joy of workends and staycations, surrendering your attention span to others feels a lot like WORK.


* Squirrel!
** Like, say… living in THE MODERN WORLD.
*** Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature- Deficit Disorder, by Richard Louv, Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 2006, page 102.
**** The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, by Matthew B. Crawford, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2015, p. 13.

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