Zeitgeist and the art of not looking down

Zeitgeist is such a delicious world. Not only does it launch off a wonderfully rare ‘z’, but it rolls over itself in a pleasing loop of a rhyme. Yes, I rather like the word zeitgeist.

However, I am not sure how I feel about what it represents. I am, you see, the kind of person who naturally retreats from the overtly popular. I am no trendsetter, mind, nor am I particularly off-centre in any notable way, but where some might say “everybody else is doing it so why can’t I?” I lean towards “everybody else is doing it so I’ll stubbornly do something entirely different, thank you very much”. This might explain why I have still not seen Basic Instinct or read a Stieg Larsson book and why I only succumbed to leggings about two years ago. Yet for the past year, I have been quite taken with the concepts of mindfulness and happiness. Just like everyone else. And over recent weeks I have added the subject of sleep to this repertoire. Again, just like everyone else.


Well, maybe not everyone else, but a lot of people. People like Arianna Huffington whose new book, Thrive, I am gobbling up on my daily commute. Her introduction alone is almost ode-like in its proselytisation of sleep, something I wrote about a few weeks go in an act of zeitgeisty zeal. Though I was already of the opinion that we all need more sleep, I was quite blown away by some of the statistics she references. Did you know, for example, that in the USA, the loss of productivity due to insomnia is estimated to cost business more than $63 billion per year?  And Cheri Mah, a researcher at the Stanford Sleep Disorders Clinic noted that athletes who slept longer and better, performed markedly better, even better than had they taken performance enhancing drugs.

Just as the overloaded email inbox has become a status symbol – “your get 100 emails a a day? That’s nothing, I get 500” – so has the ability to survive (and note I say survive, not thrive) on just a few hours sleep. It is becoming ever clearer that this is neither healthy or sustainable and quite frankly, it’s a hot topic right now. In May the BBC dedicated an entire day of programming to the Day of the Body Clock and just last week Sleepio, in conjunction with Oxford University, launched the 2014 Great British Sleep Survey.

Tune into your story

Sleep, of course, has a rather appropriate bedfellow in mindfulness; the art of being present. We know all too well that we ought to live every day as if it were our last, savouring each moment and prioritising activities and emotions that genuinely matter and make us feel good about who we are and what we contribute to the world, but how many of us actually do this? Sadly it often takes a tragedy for is to recalibrate and even then, our commitment seldom lasts.

I have been practising yoga in earnest since April last year but have never thought of myself as a ‘yoga bunny’. Yet I have found that the opportunity to extract myself from the business of busyness and just focus on my breathing, my body and my mind has been fantastically helpful. In fact, after the universe threw me a personal curveball around November last year I found myself experiencing actual cravings for yoga. It wasn’t about the physical exercise, it was about an intense need to calm my mind and recentre myself. At the risk of sounding like the kind of person who wears tie-dye, in addition to a crew of incredibly supportive and inspirational friends and family, I credit yoga and mindfulness with keeping me sane over the past nine months. I think Arianna explains it quite well when she says that we all have our own stories, and mindfulness is what helps us become aware of our own story.

Not-so-smart phones

My natural inclination to cling to the past like a leech in a talent show means that I am certainly no expert at mindfulness yet but I have absolutely seen the difference it has made in my life and so I am trying to get better at it. But there is a downside to my increasing awareness which is that it is making me hyperaware of how unaware other people can be.

Seriously, I would like to introduce a law that makes it illegal for people to walk and text at the same time! We already now that distracted driving, especially due to texting, is to blame for an alarming increase in road deaths, but did you know that while the total number of injured pedestrians being admitted to hospitals in the US has dropped, those hurt while using a mobile has doubled since 2005?! Over 1,500 people were admitted to A&E in 2010 with phone-related pedestrian injuries. I don’t know what the figures are for other parts of the world but I would be willing to bet they’re on a par – and even worse now that we’re in 2014.


It is likely that one or more of these injuries will in the future be caused by me stubbornly standing still while a pedestrian with no visible neck, or indeed face, careers headlong into me while absorbed in filling out that all-important Buzzfeed survey.


There is a time for tablets and smartphones and a time for walking, talking and experiencing. Let's not confuse them.

There is a time for tablets and smartphones and a time for walking, talking and experiencing. Let’s not confuse them.

To avoid such a clash, I would like to ask you all to be part of my #dontlookdown campaign (the only time I will excuse the omission of an apostrophe!). It’s very simple: stop burying your face in a device, and inspire others to follow suit, so that we don’t all become what journalist Wayne Curtis calls the ‘digital dead’ – “hyperconnected individuals who walk around the city disconnected from those around them, and themselves, transfixed by a small screen in their hands”. It may just secure our survival according to Laurence Gonzales, author of Deep Survival, who does and why, who explains: “Survivors are attuned to the wonder of the world. The appreciation of beauty, the feeling of awe, opens our senses.”

I could probably prattle on about sleep and mindfulness – and I haven’t even mentioned meditation yet – but to be honest, I’d quite like to take the time to enjoy the process of making dinner this evening. Just as I enjoyed the 15 minutes I spent before sitting down to type this, simply lying on my back in the garden, listening to the wind, looking up into the branches of a tree and remembering the feel of grass under my toes.

Try it some time, you’ll be amazed how good it feels to ground down and look up.




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