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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Art of Doing Nothing



"What are you doing, Max?" I asked my five year-old son as he lounged on my bed.

"Nuffing."

And indeed, he was doing "nuffing".  Well, nothing but sprawling on the bed, gazing at the ceiling and singing a nameless tune.  And, he was being happy.

Recently, someone I follow on Instagram posted a picture of himself, wrapped in a blanket, binge-watching cooking shows.  He proudly noted that he had spent his entire weekend thus.  Doing...  You guessed it...  NOTHING!

Doing nothing is entirely different from laziness.  Laziness seems to have a moral component.  It's about constantly doing nothing, even if you REALLY should be doing something.  It's about avoidance, not enjoyment.  Doing nothing is an essential part of life, or at least it should be.  And it's a part of life that I seem to be very, very bad at.

For the purpose of making my point, perhaps I should define what "doing nothing" means to me.  Of course, it could mean the obvious - a total absence of activity.  Or, it could mean doing nothing but reading, chatting, listening to music or watching television.  Doing nothing implies a blessed lack of productivity.  It's end result is a feeling of peace, not of accomplishment.

My children can judge how much I will get done in a weekend when they hear me respond, "Absolutely nothing," to the question of what my plans are.  For me, making that declaration is a prelude to sudden activity such as weeding, raking and mowing the lawn, painting and entire room in an afternoon or a day spent on the town.  It will also likely lead to a baking marathon and several hours of drawing or writing.  You see, like a dieter who proclaims that they will never eat another carb, only to be found huddled in a corner with a loaf of hot french bread, the more I declare my intention to be still, the more I end up doing.

Before you think I am somehow fishing for a compliment about my amazing energy or commitment to "doing", let me assure you...  I am not.  Sympathy would be more appreciated.  Or a really good idea on how to dial it back.  For some reason, when I am not actively doing something, I feel like I am going to miss the boat.  If I don't draw that picture, write that essay or send that email NOW, someone might get to it before me!  Of course, since I am thinking of such projects as my poster featuring the gowns of Queen Mary, it's highly unlikely.  But, I digress.  There is rarely a time when I am not doing at least two things at once.  When I am reading I am listening to music.  When I am watching television I am drawing.  When I am trying to get to sleep, I am frantically planning the next day.  Oh to lay on the bed and do "nuffing"!

My wife children know how to do nothing.  They know how to take a break from the world and allow themselves to drift.  To think or not.  To listen to music and do nothing else.  To read a book and block everything else out.  They are SO Zen...  And then there's me. 

I'll blame "society".  Like "The Man" they are an easy target for anything that ails us.  Of course, since we as individuals actually comprise "society", the responsibility inevitably comes back to ourselves.  As a people, we seem to be under the impression that to be "busy" is an asset.  It means we are important, engaged and productive.  If we are "busy" we are valuable.  Ironically, we probably get less of real use done now than ever before.  We fill our minds with false deadlines.  We project our own unrealistic expectations of ourselves onto others.  We are forever envying those who seem to have and do it all.  In fact, what we need...  What I need... more than ever is a little more "nuffing" and a lot less activity.

Now, as soon as I check my Instagram, post to my Facebook, tweet to Twitter and take those selfies...  I'm doin' NOTHIN'!


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