Journal Musings

Idle Mind

My pet Red Slider Turtle Pepe, now about six years old, spends ninety percent of his time sleeping upon the sunning rock in his aquarium. Weeks go by without his doing more than waking, eating, defecating, and sleeping once again.

Orkney Circle Sunset
Sunset over the Ring of Brodgar, the Orkney Islands, Great Britain, 1995.

My pet Red Slider Turtle Pepe, now about six years old, spends ninety percent of his time sleeping upon the sunning rock in his aquarium. Weeks go by without his doing more than waking, eating, defecating, and sleeping once again. I’ve often watched him as he slept and wondered what goes on in a mind like his. What insight of Nature, a practical and frugal taskmaster, prepared a creature like Pepe for passing the hours? Surely the “idle” time that I perceive must hide some purpose that contributes towards his survival? Or does the universe work upon the principle of expending the least amount of energy on awareness?

Wild cats do it, too, lying drowsy or alert upon a promontory, surveying the land below. They will spend hours doing this, days sometimes, just watching. What goes on in their minds? Do they work out tactics or is it a strip of fog, with only movement having any true significance? Would Nature waste the resources of a mind by letting hours go by without purpose or relevance?

So often I feel guilty when I allow time to slip by without making use of it. All my life the society around me has told me that time is a commodity, like money, and that when you don’t use it it goes to waste. And yet those times that I’ve allowed myself to drift have often pinned themselves to my history as the most poignant in my life; my six month bicycle trip across Europe taught me just how slowly the pace of the mind moves within the cycles of the Earth’s seasons and the rolling of the planet. The quick shutter release of city life somehow leaves my mind behind, forever trying to catch up, and never quite aware of itself or where it is.

Doris Lessing, in her book “The Making of the Representative for Planet 8” discusses the role of dreams in life and suggests that dreaming may be the awareness of reality as it really is, that the reason one cannot live without dreams, and why other creatures besides us also dream, is that perhaps reality consists of layers, of which this physical reality is but a facade for the final awakening we all must eventually go through. She asks why it is that so often what we dream seems more real than what we perceive in our waking life, but at the same time we can never find the words to describe this super-reality.

Surely with our knowledge of the insubstantiality of the universe, the way bodies are made up of such ephemeral particles as atoms and quarks and dark matter, should alert us to the possibility that the reality that we perceive day by day is but an illusion. Perhaps the colors and landscapes of our dreams and imagination are glimpses into who and what we really are.

Perhaps turtles and cats have front row tickets to viewing the world as it really is and without effort they are able to recognize creation as the dance that it is. Sleep and dreams may be more than down time for our cells to regenerate. Perhaps they are lessons for us to awaken to, for the next step in our evolution. Perhaps there is much more going on than we even have an inking of.

9 replies on “Idle Mind”

I wonder if turtles and cats are indicating something about the importance of contemplation to all forms of life, sometimes companionably so, as when one of my cats hops into my lap during zazen to be still and meditate with me.


Hi Butuki:

I’ve been enjoying your blog (yes, I despise that word too) and feel the need to come out of lurk mode. I think as writers we suffer the misguided notion that every moment must be filled with some “writerly” activity. Those activities are most often limited to those that prove our productivity, i.e., a completed poem, a page of prose, reams of research. Somehow, and I have yet to master it myself, we’ve got to remind ourselves that the stillness feeds the writing. It is not useless time, rather, a filling of the cup so to speak so that when we do approach the work in question we’re able to bring to it some measure of clarity and understanding.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts,


I’m just on my way to bed. I’ll probably dream about this. It will look like a steel ball rolling down a hall in a patch of sunlight, so that’s how I’ll recognize it.

Or it might look like something else entirely. I suck at regimentation.


It’s interesting how this post managed to come into being. I was sitting at the computer completely at a loss for what to write about, so I walked over to look at Pepe. He just looked up at me and smiled (the way only turtles can smile). I swear he sent me a mental image of a story. I swear!


This is a beautiful presence on the web. It reminds me of when I used to keep a journal on line.
All I do now is maintain a fairly lazy blog, and I rather miss composing meditations for the Great Invisible Audience, but there are visible audiences I am happily attending to.
Anyhow, I love these pages, and look forward to many visits.


Thanks very much commonbeauty. May I ask why you stopped writing what you would like to write about? One thing that happened to me as this site developed is that more and more I stopped writing about the news and such and focused more on what moves me. It is not even a journal in the original sense of the word, because I don’t write every day and I don’t include information that is too private, like about my family and people who are close to me. This isn’t a diary, and shouldn’t be. It is more like a pow-wow, sitting around a fire relating stories.

Welcome to the fire!


I’m pretty sure that cats do _something_ in their head while they doze the day away. For one thing – they dream!

You can sometimes see that a sleeping, dreaming cat is hunting and catching prey in its mind. So just from that I would assume that a dozing cat looking out over its domain is not just staring out into a fog with movement as the only thing standing out…

I’m not sure how much can go on in a brain the size of a walnut, but if you ever had a chance to live with cats, you start suspecting that it’s quite a lot. 🙂


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