Staring Out Of The Window

Nobody says “I had a lovely day; the high point was staring out the window”. But, maybe they should.

‘Not everything which cannot be deemed useful is useless’ wrote Josef Pieper. For while science, accounting, exercising and eating are all useful, others, such as art, music, and quiet contemplation; while being essentially ‘useless’, perform an incredibly important function. They may calm, uplift, inspire, or move us; but we don’t necessarily do them for such utilitarian purposes. We do them, simply, because we like them. There is value in the useless.

This humble truth is revealed in the act of staring out of one’s window. What matters here is not what one is looking at per se, but the very act of looking. Like hearing but not listening, this involves looking but not seeing because, what matters is not the content of our view, but the content of our minds. Looking out the window can provide a perfect moment for self-reflection. That single bird chirping to the wind, notes extinguished by air; its song makes you think about the ephemeral nature of existence and the fleetingness of beauty. Or, perhaps, the clouds whispering through the sky causes you to think about your tendency to hold on to things. The world outside the window is a space on which we can project our thoughts; redefine, reconceptualise, and rethink.

Our mind is like an upside down cone. As we go throughout the day, thoughts will fill the cone from the point, up; thoughts at the bottom stay there, and new thoughts pile on top. But, when we contemplate, such as staring out the window, the gravity of thought loses sway; thoughts once at the bottom can rise to the surface again and become objects of attention.

By giving our mind’s a moment to still/calm/relax, we are providing an opportunity for the quitter parts of ourselves to have a voice. They may not be entirely useful: you might not become a better friend, better lover, better worker, or better thinker by staring out the window; but then again, you just might.

For it is the nature of quiet contemplation that you do not do it with a goal in mind, to achieve usefulness from it. It cannot be retrieved, it must be granted. The ancients called this ‘grace’; we might call it an ‘epiphany’. You cannot force an epiphany; you must let it come to you.

Have you ever tried to remember a name or think of a certain word, but the more you try, the further away it seems to go? But then, in the midst of eating dinner or as you’re about to fall asleep, it just hits you?

The ancients understood well that when presented with a problem, sometimes, the solution is not found by strain or exertion, but by giving up and letting the solution come to us. This is the usefulness of the useless, and the greatest quality in aimlessly staring out of one’s window.

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