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Thinking with your hands

I was drawn to the report that the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg is offering scholarships to students to explore the concept of ‘active inactivity’.

‘What do you not want to do? For how long do you not want to do it? Why is it important not to do this? Why are you the person not to do it?

This is an exercise in the virtue of ‘sit still’, which has been lost in the hurry and scurry of modern life, but was valued by the stoics and the Christian tradition of contemplation. A very suitable return for our times when so many of our usual movements – valued and lived with – have been muted by COVID-19 restrictions.

More books are being bought and read. Children’s games, dogs, DIY equipment and more are flying off the shelves, as people fill their time with activities other than commuting and responding to the series of checklists, which routine work has demanded of them. There is freedom to think and use time at your own discretion.

‘Look before you leap’. ‘Don’t just do something – sit there’. My mother had advice for every circumstance – inherited from generations of the wise.

Certainly, a life galloped through from one pleasure venture to another, without a thought for where we are going, or have been, is a nonsense and a waste.

Times at peace, reflecting, planning, being glad or glum, are times well-spent and enrich us. But I know that thought without movement can so easily become empty. Music might move us on. Handling things, making things, cutting, digging, painting, walking – physical activities but they enliven our thinking and feelings to generate more than pure stillness can do.

So it is for us – the more so for people with dementia and similar illnesses. It is a great triumph that we have come to realise the therapeutic power of simple movements, especially when linked with social interactions and fun. This is how people with dementia now live longer and happier lives than was the lot for previous generations.

So too for all of us.  We may come to bless this time, when the world stood, or sat, still and began to think again. But thoughts are better when linked to careful movement.

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