Spool Five

Spacing Out - Gangnam Style

Author: Eoin Carney Published: May, 2022

I’m writing this in response to the May 6th entry on Ran Prieur’s, always-lovely, blog:

May 6. I’ve quit meditating. Instead, I do nothing. The practice is basically the same but the framing is totally different. Meditation is something that highly driven people do to improve themselves; nothing is what lazy people do whenever they get the chance. Meditation is a chore; doing nothing is a relief. While meditating, you focus on your breath in order to still your thoughts; while doing nothing, you focus on your breath because breathing is the only thing you can’t not do.

It took me back to my time in Korea.

To be perfectly honest, at least part of the reason why I initially moved to Korea was some kind of desire to discover more about Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism. I wanted to move to a society that had been shaped by these historical movements in the same way I believed my own had been shaped by Christianity (specifically, Catholicism).

While I did indeed learn more about these traditions and the subtle influences they can have on social order, the predominant social force I learned the most about was, of course, capitalism (and also some even more dogmatic forms of Christianity!).

In place of ‘meditation’ I learned all about ‘spacing-out’. This is a common ‘practice’ in Korea where you literally sit and do nothing. I’m sure everyone is familiar with the feeling of just staring into space and zoning out. Well, in Korea, it is basically considered a past-time. I was even teaching an English class to some middle school students about ‘hobbies’ where the term came up. The first kid said their favourite hobby was playing video games, the second said going to the mall, and the third said ‘zoning-out’.

They have famous annual ‘spacing-out’ competitions in Korea. The winner is whoever can go the longest without falling asleep or moving. Sometimes these competitions get covered in Western media, and are often framed with terms like ‘zen’ and so on.

But, the point of all this is to say that this practice is most definitely not linked to any past histories of religious meditation. It’s linked to capitalism. It’s linked to being overworked, over-stimulated, and over-tired. It’s a survival mechanism.

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