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On Being Alone With One's Thoughts

A cartoon by Rashid Sherif titled "Different thinking"
A cartoon by Rashid Sherif titled "Different thinking"
Out of the blue, not long ago, I had to take the train at short notice and, after rushing to the station, I jumped into the first carriage, delighted that I would arrive in time, only to find that I had six hours in front of me and nothing to read. Nada! No book or magazine, not even a pencil and paper in case some idea dawned on me.

So I spent six hours with only myself, staring outside and peering at my fellow travelers.

They all had something to kill the time: books, computers, iPods... The kids were fumbling with electronic games. Nobody was left abandoned to himself, except me. Suddenly I realized that I had been lucky -- after all, otherwise I would have never tried to spend six hours just cogitating. Well, sort of...

We have grown used to filling our days with something to do: surfing, phoning, zapping...

There are no gaps; we have forgotten how to be idle.

We don't know anymore what it is like to just amble aimlessly and to unplug, crumbling into a far niente (pleasant idleness) that, in the end, can prove very creative.

When traveling, we think we are wasting our time if we sit for hours without anything to read. In fact, we are wasting our time when we do exactly the opposite -- when we read, desperately, anything, only to be spared confronting the dreaded solitude lurking inside our heads. We read to burn daylight. We read like others drink, just to hide our gloom.

We have totally forgotten how important leisure was for the Romantic writers, how their idleness generated vital energy. These days, even leisure has to be regulated. In fact, it is the speed in our lives that makes us forget.

Thus musing, I arrived at my destination, proud of having rediscovered the creative value of pointless idleness.

True, the next morning, before taking the train back home, I carefully bought enough books and newspapers for the ride. Not that I was reneging on my ecstatic revelation, but I felt that such a creative trance should be approached in moderation.

Dan Alexe is a Brussels correspondent for RFE/RL's Moldova Service. The views expressed in this commentary are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect those of RFE/RL