Spacing out and temporarily shutting down the brain for a mental break is becoming a conscious daily pursuit for East-Asian urban dwellers to seek respite in their fast-paced lives.
Recently in Korea, there was the Space Out Competition, where participants sat on the ground in the public sphere and fully concentrated on doing nothing at all. Anything else is considered to be violating the rules, including dozing off and sleeping (even though biologically one is still doing nothing and technically not breaking the rules). In this pursuit of an extreme disconnection from the chaotic and often frustrating reality, it is believed that all impurities, namely the hustle and bustle of daily lives, will be wiped off our mind and thus we could start afresh once more.
This competition was held for the first time in the year of 2014, promoted by Korean artist Woops Yang. Having suffered from burnout symptoms caused by too much pressure at work, he felt like he was falling prey to a modern lifestyle controlled by mobile devices, and realised that even something as simple as spacing out has become a luxury.
Hence Yang encouraged people to space out together in public, with an aim to capitalise on the strength of masses to justify this behaviour. Spacing out has long been considered a waste of time, especially in the highly competitive Korean society, and yet he believes that it could actually help to clarify our thoughts.
This idea of abandoning physical movements is not new in Oriental philosophy. In Buddhism and Zen, for example, participants take on static postures (that could be slightly different depending on the individual’s physical constitution) for a long time, diverting their focus from the outside environment to the inner self, to achieve a state of total calmness and spiritual satisfaction.
Spacing out, with a somewhat similar vision, has since become a sport, and potentially a movement in Korea. It is also considered a behavioural performance and has been promoted to nearby places such as Taiwan, where the first space out competition was recently held in the capital city, Taipei.
Simple as it may sound, in the competition that lasts about 90 minutes, devices are used every 15 minutes to measure the heartbeats of the contestants, and the one who has the most stable pulse is the winner. This is probably the only thing that is a bit bizarre. Why should there be a winner after all, if this activity is just something normal that may happen at any time to anyone?
One last thing to note is that we may cease to partake in all physical activities, but it is always hard to regulate our internal thoughts. Where does our mind travel when we space out? It remains an interesting question for us to find out and even then, well, not everyone will be willing to speak out.
Words: Yi Tang
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