I am currently reading “Sophie’s World” by Norwegian author Jostein Gaarder. It’s supposed to be a mix of fiction and philosophy, but since the fiction part of the book is absolute garbage, I will not bother telling you about it. The philosophy part, however, is brilliant. It goes through the fundamental philosophers and schools of thought in simple yet incredibly insightful ways, so I stayed for this part.

The beginning of the book starts with, well, the beginning: Greek philosophers. One caught my attention, particularly one sentence that the author wrote that made me think about how essential and human rest is—even when you set yourself out on mighty quests like finding the meaning of things, which is what philosophers do. Follow me.

Empedocles a Greek philosopher put together what philosophers before had been looking at to find the answer to their question “how is everything made?” To us now it sounds basic, we have science to tell us that everything is made, at least when it’s natural, of water, air, earth, or fire.

In Ancient Greece, though, philosophers who got tired of the usual godly explanation for thunder asked deeper questions and were (supposedly)?the first scientists of our world. Some of them insisted that water and air were present in everything, and the Greek knew that fire was essential as well (the sun; both us and animals need heat to live). Other philosophers focused on the cycles of things, some insisting that everything flows (water has différent stages); others that nothing changes (water is always water).

Then comes Empedocles. 

He came to the conclusion that all four elements are present in everything; everything transforms and yet everything is the same. In the book there’s a key sentence that reads “Empedocles might have watched a piece of wood burning.” He put everything together by doing something else than “proper” philosophy.

The same happened with Newton’s apple. The apple fell from the tree on his head. He was thinking. He deducted the law of gravity without being bent over his notes and research.

P, my partner, is reading a book about learning. The author explains that you always find yourself in two modes: focus and diffuse mode. In the former, you are concentrated on one task, one aspect of a problem, one thing. Your brain is using the pre-frontal cortex (which is, among other things, for analytical thinking). In diffuse mode, your brain is making new connections between type of info, problems, solutions, linking past future present.

If you think about it, countless people have experienced this on their quest to solutions to their problems, mathematicians of course, but you and me too. I had no intention to write anything today, and yet here I am, typing like a mad woman in a note on my phone trying to develop my newfound argument.

There’s something funny that’s been happening in the world over the past decades; everyone seems to swear by science and science only. And here I am trying to find the strongest words to explain that rest is fundamental not only to our well-being but also our productivity, without realizing that I had to look no further than the world’s most well-known scientific discoveries of all time to make a point.

Sure, not everyone wants to be a well-known scientist; not everyone has a day-to-day job that requires them to solve complex problems like the law of gravity or the origin of life. Yet, all of us have hundreds of decisions to make everyday, each solving tiny problems of daily life. What time should I set up my computer to be on time for my zoom meeting? When should I start making lunch to eat by 1pm? Should I start with this email or that email?

We also have bigger riddles to solve. Is now a good time to quit my job? Am I sure I can bring up xyz divisive conversation to the table right now? What is the best way to start this project? What school is best for my kid(s)?

All of these concerns take up space in our minds; and our minds find the best solutions when they have exactly that: space. Space to ponder things, space to let the questions, problems, processes, and solutions, simply exist.

While the exact time to set up your computer to be on time for a zoom meeting might seem like a tiny decision with no impact on your life, it defines the relationship with the person or people on the other side of the screen. Like deciding when or how to quit your job, these decisions make up who you are and they matter.

You can be sure Newton and Empedocles (Einstein, Marie Curie, and all the others) found their solutions and got their eureka moments while in “diffuse” mode.

Newton, Empedocles, and all the philosophers and scientists before and after them could have decided to dedicate night and day over their research. They didn’t even have social media giants fabricating addictions to trick them away from what they valued spending time over. Yet, they let their intuition guide them. They sat by trees, watched fire burn. They let ideas, thoughts, questions, and solutions come to them through the wonderful medium that is called rest.

If productivity is the result of the decisions we make and the way we make decisions, then surely by now I’ll have convinced you.  Now then… will you rest?

About the Author

Ely Bakouche

I'm Ely, pronounced Ellie, or /eli/ if you speak phonetics. I'm the writer behind EB's Notebook, a multilingual place off the noisy world of the internet dedicated to curiosity, questioning, and calm. My toolbox for thinking includes language, rest and savasanas, dancing, reading, discussing, and traveling. I'm also the magazine editor at shutupandyoga.com, where we bring critical thinking into the yoga space.

View All Articles