The Art of Doing Nothing

“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day,” A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

I have been living under flagrantly false assumptions my entire life. I do not know how in tarnation this happened? And to make matters worse I discovered this inanity by accident. I know, I’d call my Mother and rant, but that’s not possible. Is it really a revelation if you don’t share it?

I didn’t think so, so I wrote it all down, you’re welcome.

The truth is I’m a natural sloth who has been sipping the Kool~Aid of wonks for far too long. Slothing has a bad wrap and I’m here to repackage this preposterous vilification. People can be so judgmental. If you don’t want to feel guilty every time you put your damn feet up then please read on…

I’ve been running at breakneck speeds for nearly half a century trying to keep up with the Jones whom I barely know? If this pandemic has taught me a thing or two; it’s one, I’m not a shark, and I won’t die if I stop all motion, and two, the Jones, who have never invited me to dinner, have way to much influence on our cultural expectations. During this perpetual lockdown I found time to be a gift, as in the present moment, the one I’m standing in, and by the way, time could care less if I’m mopping the floor or being a sloth.

I’m going to ask you to do something rather uncomfortable, stop with the whining, it’s not like I’m asking for money.

For the experiential purposes, you’ll need to reposition yourself before reading any further, it’s pivotal, so don’t skip this part, because you may think God is not watching, but she is, and your collaboration has been noted.

Idleness is not the root of all evil as the Jones would have you think, it is the fertilizer, which is required if one wishes to bloom properly.

It’s imperative that the cognitive part of your person be aligned with your body, so find a lounge chair, a bed, the floor, and maybe a couple of pillows to elevate your feet. If possible your eyes should be below the navel level when standing. Shoes off obviously. A blanket is essential, ear plugs, and you can repurpose your face mask to shelter your eyes. Send me a pic because I know your phone is within arms reach.

Personally, I like a cup of coffee no further than eight inches from my nose, that’s just me, consider that optional.

This is called lounging, it takes a few minutes for you to return to your senses, don’t rush the process. Stay put until your thoughts settle down, your brain chills, and you are no longer cognizant of the chatter going on around you. Remember to breathe, we inhale and exhale the same way we remember and forget.

And please ignore any despairing comments about your comportment, stay the course, those people are under the influence of the Jones (you’ve heard of Jonestown), and not of their right mind.

After a half hour or so you’ll stop noticing the dusty baseboards, suspicious stains on the carpet, and dead flies under the coffee table. You’ll be tempted to get up and grab a dust rag, resist like a Ginsburg, dust does not expire.

This is harder than it looks, you have to wear down your restlessness, consider this a well deserved sabbatical. I read that Albert Einstein pondered the riddle of the universe with a cat on his lap. And wasn’t Isaac Newton sitting under a tree when he came up with the law of universal gravitation. I mean with your ass anchored to the ground it seems elementary but it was clever.

We can’t solve problems we haven’t yet identified, and if you find yourself meditating on the nature of textured walls, stay prone, this is critical, God only knows what issues you’ll resolve.

We all know someone who likes nothing better than to check things off their to do list, tag the finish line, complete a task, or they feel out of sorts, stifled, suppressed. It’s ridiculous and I’m determined to help you with the initial readjustments. Henry David Thoreau says, “disobedience is the true foundation of liberty.”

Let’s talk procrastination, because if you think your investments are profitable, procrastination will give you staggering results. For one, procrastination is innate. “It is an invisible force that drives rivers into serpentine patterns, underwater currents into sinuous paths, jet streams into winding courses – and you and me into a rambling mode,” says V. Vienne.

Let your mind meander, it’s like eating the forbidden fruit, I’m talking the biblical kind, but you don’t have to worry about your nakedness. Think about the way rivers meander throughout the land, we don’t know why, but they take us places we never thought we would go. Think Huckleberry Finn, “we said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.”

Another thing, do not schedule your idleness, then it just becomes another obligation. Be spontaneous with your play. We’ve been sheltering in place for the better part of a year, if you haven’t figured out how to be a vagabond at home, then you’re missing out. Seriously.

It is perfectly fine to abandon activities midstream, don’t get all sanguine about it, just walk away. I do this all the time, as I’m organizing the bananas in the fruit bin, I find myself drawn to the window that’s streaked with three years of life, I shrug, throw some dish cloths on the hardwood and skate up and down the hall to music from the 60’s, ten minutes later I’m hunting for lost silverware, when I stumble on a drawer of maps, and decide to alphabetize them. Maybe I’ll call my sister, she’s working, and likes to be disrupted.

I have it on good authority that an hour of procrastination is equivalent to an hour at the gym. It’s the resistant training that makes all the difference. Get it?

You can strengthen your resolve to remain idle by looking at something that needs attending to, a sink full of dishes is my lifelong nemesis, feel the tension build as you ignore the impulse to amend the situation, fight it, grab a bowl of pistachios if you need support. After a few weeks you’ll be amazed at the fortitude of your resistance, not to mention the increased finger dexterity, and fiber consumption. There’s the bloom.

Remember when you were a kid, and the backyard was your universe, sometimes I was a mermaid stranded on a raft, or I’d chase my thoughts up the magnolia tree and pretend I was a cat, maybe give my baby doll a new hair cut. Rest is not idleness, and to lie on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time says John Lubbock.

Eventually my Mom would come out and ask, “what are you doing?”

I’d respond, “nothing Mom,” and this used to be good news.

Don’t let the feudal establishment deter you, there is more to happiness than rigid schedules, impressive resumes, and a fat paycheck (well maybe that).

For most of us “not doing” is just about the most difficult thing one could ask of you. We’ve been searching for that elusive something that remains just out of reach because the Jones keep moving the damn target.

Maybe we’ve been wrongly informed about the purpose of life?

Most spiritual leaders claim peace of mind is the ultimate goal and apparently it’s always attainable. Jesus described it as prayer, Muhammad preached submission, Buddha suggested detachment, but all encouraged contemplative practices, avoiding secular seductions, and cycles of cravings. They can’t all be wrong?

Consciousness is not a state of doing but a state of being claims V. Vienne. The charade is over, I will never be a perfect being, and counting my mishaps is counterproductive, but while I was relaxing I discovered that unexceptional is extraordinary enough. Maybe it’s high time we recapture our penchant for idleness, stop labeling everything we do, and revel in the art of doing nothing.

I’m Living in the Gap, singing in the sunshine, phone off!

Annecdotes:

  • “Not till we are lost, in other words not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.” Henry David Thoreau
  • “I had three chairs in my house; one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” Henry David Thoreau
  • “Like those great sphinxes lounging through eternity in noble attitudes upon the desert sand, they gaze incuriously at nothing, calm and wise.” Charles Baudelaire

35 Comments

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    1. Bahaha Mary Ellen, love your comment, windows are truely distracting issues when it comes to wrestling with our resistance! The good news is we are able to improve (keep reminding yourself I’m entitled to some slothing) and I believe Amazon will deliver those pistachios right to your door in under an hour! There’s hope! Love, C

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  1. It’s funny. We always feel like we have to fill our time with something. Even when we’re relaxing – we have to be doing – whether that’s binge watching NETFLIX or scrolling on social media. Just. Do. Nothing. Sit and observe. Then watch as the world unfolds before your eyes. Stay still enough for long enough and really is quite magical. Wonderful post Cheryl 🙏

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    1. Thank you AP2! I love how you so succintly identify a major culprit – our phones! “Just. Do. Nothing.” I’m writing that with lipstick on my bathroom mirror as a montra. Let the magic happen. All my best, C

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  2. Your writing is always something to be looked forward to Cheryl. Especially when we get to take a few laps inside your current state of consciousness, walking with you in your unique world to get to the center of some deep truth, such as why we are here.
    You propose the question: “Maybe we’ve been wrongly informed about the purpose of life?” Yup. That’s a great question and I think you are really on to something here Cheryl.
    “Wrongly informed” is such a kinder, gentler way of describing a situation where most of western society has been deliberately misled. And to the rescue, the ancients are so rife with enduring guidence. Dante’s Inferno is a great place to gain perspective as to why such a huge percentage of our populous are ruined by vanity, the cornerstone of all that pulls us away from our true purpose on this planet.
    It all gets so much easier when we accept that we all have a purpose here that has precious little to do with what goes on here.
    Chris Tabone

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good morning Chris, good to see you here in the comments, I always enjoy your take on things. Love this, “walking with you in your unique world to get to the center of some deep truth, such as why are we here.” Sometimes that’s all I think about and then there are days when I blur the entire process with chattel. You know what I mean? Things get between me and my truth all the time. I think the vanity angle is a good one, mirrors have a way of reflecting, and distracting depending on what you are looking for? This nails it Chris, “when we accept that we have a purpose that has precious little to do with what goes on here.” Wow, I have to give that more thought, maybe some pistachios! All my best, C

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  3. Love it. My word for the year is sleeep… a little longer sleep is helpful for all. It’s a fantastic return on investment, especially when compared with all the other things we spend money on when we don’t get enough of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Daniel, love when join me in the comments, and then share your “word for the year,” SLEEP! I totally agree, the more sleep, the better the return. As I age up I find sleep sometimes elusive? But then again, it’s an opportunity for prayer? The rosary can put me back to sleep in two decades. All good practices for a stressful year. Hugs, C

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  4. That is one of my favourite Winnie the Pooh quotes. I really enjoyed this Cheryl and wonder if we are on a similar wave length in that my daily post today was about how work and life are always ‘to be continued’. Although, I need to lean in more to yours as I approach a weekend with where’s my list of stuff to do. I’m going to re-do the list to one thing: buy pistachios.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Leanne, I never tire of Winnie the Poohisms, such wisdom. I am overjoyed to discover once again we are on similar wave lengths! This seems to happen a lot, I’ll resist the “good minds think alike,” idiom! But it’s nevertheless true. Oh no, weekend lists? That’s sacreligious Leanne. It should read: sleep in, stretch, lounge in Pj’s with pot of coffee, gaze out the window not at, meander around the house with your thoughts, hopefully landing in a bubble bath, with a bowl of pistachios! Be well my friend, C

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  5. Definitely the best lockdown advice I have read since February 2020. One other good thing is that by not being allowed to have visitors, you don’t have to worry if they notice you haven’t been very thorough with the cleaning. Or even if you haven’t bothered to do any at all. 🙂
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow Pete, “the best lockdown advice you have read,” I’m feeling pretty hip right now! Rest, relax, let those chores entertain themselves! And I agree, no one’s coming to visit, so stay in your nightdress all day, enjoy some pasticcios! Warmly, C

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I love this wonderful post and philosophy. The concept as idleness and fertilizer is a great one. The best things happen when rested and in rest. As always, thank you for your depth wrapped in humor 💗💗.

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    1. Thank you LaDonna, I love this, “the best things happen when rested and in rest,” that is solid, something I can grip. The thing I feel most strongly when rested is a softness of mind and heart. Do you know what I mean? From that place I can view life through a much gentler lens. Warmly, C

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    1. Your Mom sounds like a wonderful person Elizabeth, I might have to allow for some “mung days” in my future schedule? What a memorable experience especially for children with highly scheduled lives. I too remember lying on the grass staring at the clouds and for the life of me I don’t know why I let that go…all my best, C

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  7. Wonderful trip with you doing nothing 😁 I especially like thinking back to our childhood minds. When days lasted forever as did summer breaks from school. There were no limits to our imagination when doing nothing

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    1. I was thinking the same about God as Goddess. At the same time, I love the Huck Finn and Thoreau quotes at the end.

      I’m studying Wordsworth this semester, and he calls the Art of Doing Nothing, contemplation. And through contemplation (especially in nature) we find balance and creativity. And so in essence, we are doing something after all. Happy Valentine’s Day, Cheryl!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Crystal, this was my unapologetic way of justifying my time resting and relaxing which is imperative if you want to be creative, especially for writers. I like the way you and Wordsworth redefine rest as contemplation! That’s brilliant! Happy Valentines Day, Crystal!

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