"A human being is part of a whole called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself,  his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty." Albert Einstein

The pleasure of a blue sky moment

“Thinking is learning all over again how to see, directing one's consciousness, making of every image a privileged place.” Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus

The phrase “blue sky thinking” litters conversations these days, the supposition being that it will prompt radical new ideas to flutter through. But rather than sparking the imagination, the call for forced creativity can invoke dread. 

And rightly so; as Orwell pointed out, this kind of inane management speak is a deliberate distortion of reality. Over-use absorbs this pseudo lingo into the popular conscience and renders words meaningless. Until you stop to question them.

When you think about it – and I have been doing, in snatched moments in the working day – taking a moment to stare upwards is not such a bad idea.

We live in an age driven by quotas, targets, deadlines and goals. An incessant thrust for productivity that we can end up believing is taking us to an endgame that will surely be the ultimate satisfaction. It’s the Sisyphean Task made 21st century, accelerated in speed and despair by technological advance. It’s so subconsciously frantic that it can be mentally paralysing.

David Thewlis’ superb nihilistic character Johnny, in Mike Leigh’s dystopic 1993 film ‘Naked’, best captures the angst and frustration with the modern world. You can’t help think his vitriol wouldn’t go amiss in the workplace, and force a much-needed pause:

“That’s the trouble with everybody — you’re all so bored. You’ve had nature explained to you and you’re bored with it, you’ve had the living body explained to you and you’re bored with it, you’ve had the universe explained to you and you’re bored with it, so now you want cheap thrills and, like, plenty of them, and it doesn’t matter how tawdry or vacuous they are as long as it’s new as long as it’s new as long as it flashes and fuckin’ bleeps in forty fuckin’ different colours.”

“Blue sky thinking” should really be about arresting the frantic mind, stepping away from the clock – you can’t stop it but you can choose not to be governed by the tick – and just looking at what there is. It’s a call to reflect on existence rather than find ways of embellishing it. If you can halt the all-consuming compulsion to do everything all at once all the time, you can quieten the chaos and stop the whirlwind. Stare at the sky instead of continually seeking something brighter, bigger, better.

Absorbing yourself in the vast swathe of blue of the inconceivably wide expanse of sky is a means of letting the mind wander, getting lost in thought. That’s when ideas germinate, when staring as though blankly allows you to think more clearly.

It’s the Sisyphean Task turned on its head. In Albert Camus’ treatise on settling with the absurd, it’s precisely this acceptance of reality that can make the difference between life as an unbearable fight to the end, or a fully conscious and meaningful experience:

“In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion."

In praise of paper

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