So actually taking time out is not just doing ourselves a favour, but doing a favour to everybody around us, too. I try to go on retreat to a monastery every season. And every time I do that, as I’m driving up, I feel so guilty to be leaving my mother or my wife behind and to be putting my email on automatic response and to be missing out a friend’s birthday party. But as soon as I get there, within 10 minutes, I realise it’s only by being there that I have anything fresh to share with my wife, my mother and my friends.
What do you practise in the monastery?
Just reading and writing. It’s a Catholic monastery and I’m not a Christian. But I think silence has been my greatest teacher. And my sense is wherever you are, and whatever your religious orientation or lack of it, just to go to silence—whether it’s by taking a walk or going into a retreat house—is like going into a hospital for the soul. You come back refreshed. It’s the best travel experience I can think of.
And these are just really accessible, practical daily things, right? As you were speaking there I realised that I put experiences like going for a walk into nature or meditating on a pedestal, I mean we see them as “spiritual” activities, “something special.” But I think that very thinking doesn’t do us any good.
Exactly. Keeps them at a distance. I think it’s as simple as when I’m driving around California, I love listening to the radio. And every now and then I’ll turn it off. And suddenly I realise, Oh, I’ve got a little holiday! Twenty minutes just to let my mind wander. Or when I’m at the health club, if I’m walking the treadmill, I turn the TV off. Suddenly, nothing to do! And that’s when amazing things will come to me. Or waiting in line in the bank. You could be fretting at the fact you’re waiting in line or you could say, “I’ve been given the chance to spend five minutes doing nothing, which doesn’t come very often!”
[Laughs]. So do you ever get anxious, Pico?
Yes I get anxious, as everybody does. But I think, cumulatively, the more time you can breathe, the less anxious you’ll become. And the more concerned about the world you’ll become, the less anxious you’ll be. The concern won’t be a kind of fretful useless neurotic energy, but a more purposeful, constructive one. That’s the hope at least.
The other double standard I was thinking about recently is that more and more of my friends are very, very particular about where they eat. They would never dream of going to McDonald’s. But after having a truly healthy and organic meal, they’ll go home and access some website with the latest Hollywood gossip and stuff junk food in their mind. And again when I see that tendency in myself I realise, This is really short-sighted, I’m taking such pains with what I put inside my mouth, and so few pains about what I’m putting inside my mind.
Yeah, it makes me think, you know when you can see your better self? It’s right there in front of you! You know the things you should do to rise out of a slump. Read a book instead of mindlessly scroll the internet. Cook instead of get takeaway. You know the better option and yet for some reason, the weight of the day or whatever, you can’t! And yet you know that if you do it, you’re going to be much happier, you’re going to feel much better about yourself, you’re going to get much more clarity. But there is a tendency, for me personally, to choose not to.
So, so true. We fail that test every day. I certainly do. We can’t expect ourselves to succeed 100 percent of the time. The key, for me at least, is remembering that you’ll actually be happier if you do that particular thing. Feel better about myself, to use the other phrase you used.