“I didn’t get anything accomplished today.” How often have you spoken those words or heard them spoken by someone else? Most of us seem to be conditioned to accomplish things and we feel guilty if this isn’t happening. This is a good thing in many ways because it means that a lot does get accomplished by us humans. But there are times when we may just like to sit and do nothing. I am actually getting to be quite good at it. One of my favourite activities is to gaze out the window at the trees and watch the birds flying by or the squirrels jumping from branch to branch. But after a little while I start to feel a nudge that I should do something. I try to resist this feeling but eventually It overcomes me and I get up to attend to a chore. I put the dishes away or do the laundry or my exercises, anything to silence the voice that is saying “You are so lazy. Stop your loafing and do something, anything.”
Does any of this sound familiar? Do you enjoy your do nothing times only when you’ve earned them through hard work? Or do you love being active all the time and wonder what I’m talking about? Whether you are fans or fugitives of the work ethic, you may be wondering what value there is in doing nothing and why I am being an advocate for it.
I see it as partly a correction of a busyness trend in our culture. Always keep busy. It doesn’t much matter what you are busy at. Just don’t be idle. Idleness was once considered to be an invitation to the devil. I went on the internet and found dozens of quotes denouncing it as a sin. Nevertheless, many great thinkers spoke well of it. Oscar Wilde said “Idleness is the most exquisite thing a university can teach its students.” Really! Isn’t exquisite a little off the top in praising it? Soren Kierkegaard said “Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is really the only true good.”
What did these authors mean by these enigmatic statements? Could they mean that our soul blossoms in our idle moments when we are not thinking, planning, worrying and getting stressed out with so much to do? That sounds quite exquisite to me, to take a break from doing and just be.
But isn’t there an idleness that is just plain lazy and has no redeeming qualities? Yes, I don’t think good always comes out of it. But I don’t see idleness as being inherently evil either. I would not want to pass judgment on what is good or bad. Sometimes one can lead to the other. Sometimes a person does nothing because they don’t know what to do or they lack the confidence to take action. More often people do nothing because they need to rest from too much activity. Sometimes it can be the prelude to creativity. Maybe we could look at it as being like the spaces between musical notes, without which the music would sound like a cacophony.
I am not suggesting we abolish doing things. Our world would be a poor place without those who get good things done. I am pleading for a balance between the two. But sometimes it is hard to tell the difference. Is surfing the web on your phone or other device considered doing something or nothing? What about switching channels on the tv all day? Or what about when we are depressed and stay in bed all day?
None of this is what I mean by the gentle art of doing nothing. I do consider it an art that most of us have never been schooled in. This may sound ludicrous but I believe we can be trained in it. Nature could be one of our teachers, as could music, art and poetry. But we also need human teachers as role models. Children are naturals at it. If we interviewed these teachers as to what it is they teach, they might say “Nothing,” But how will the students know if they have passed the course," we ask? “They won’t” is the answer. “It isn’t possible to fail the course.” At this point the interview ends abruptly as the futility of more questions becomes obvious.
I like to compare doing nothing as one wing of the bird and doing something as the other. The bird can’t fly with one wing. Both are necessary. In our human journey, the two wings can be called doing and being. Both are essential for a fulfilling life.
I quote from Pablo Neruda’s poem “Being quiet” which made quite an impact on me.
“If we were not so single-minded
about keeping our lives moving,
and for once could do nothing,
perhaps a huge silence
might interrupt this sadness
of never understanding ourselves.”
The word “sadness” jumped out at me. Have I avoided truly understanding myself by jumping on the treadmill of activity? Yes, I certainly did in the past but now old age has slowed me down so that treadmill riding no longer has any appeal even if it were physically possible. The question I am left with from the poem is: Why do we (or I) go to such lengths to avoid understanding ourselves? Are we missing out on the ultimate prize in life? How do Neruda’s words speak to you?
I am enjoying simply sitting in my alcove looking out at the window and seeing the snow floating down and touching the trees, softly clinging and whitening them. As I absorb the beauty of the trees, I feel I have something to learn from them. For so long I have sought truths outside of myself in books, online lectures and courses given by people a lot smarter than myself. I have gained a great deal from all this knowledge but it seems to never stop. I keep striving for more of this elusive enlightenment from others. It seems like it is now time for me to seek this sacred knowledge within myself. The trees are my very wise teachers. They teach by their silence. When I get no answers from them to my urgent questions, I can either go within for the answers or go back to the old familiar way of looking outside myself. I will probably do a combination of both but my hope is that my inner guidance will lead the way to the outside resources that I need.
Society has taught us that our value comes from doing good things, from helping others and from actively working to combat injustice. I absolutely endorse this teaching but there is another forgotten truth that is trying to emerge - the truth of being. Today our planet is suffering from its neglect. Just as the trees, plants, animals and birds have value just from being themselves, we too can embrace our unique and authentic being. If we did this I believe the world would be a more compassionate and companionable place. Why? Because our being is part of Divine Being. We are not separate from creation and as we realize who we truly are, we can no longer do harm to the earth or any of its beings because we are one with all that is.
When I say all this, I acknowledge and honour the wise avatars like Jesus, Buddha and modern mystics like Matthew Fox, Eckhardt Tolle and Mirabai Starr. Most of what I am saying comes from them and other wise people. I don’t claim originality. I have heard it from others but I am now coming to realize this amazing truth for myself that the Divine resides in me and in all of you. It is already here ready to blossom. The seed has already been planted. All we have to do is nourish it and allow it to grow.
These ideas are subversive. If we all started to love and embrace our being, it would strike a deadly blow to consumer capitalism. Instead of seeking satisfaction in accumulating more stuff and becoming richer, we could each find our richness in being who we are. As we become aware of our divine roots and our inter-connectedness with all other beings, we could live our lives more in co-operation with others rather than in competition. This has seldom been tried in human history except by certain indigenous cultures. We can learn from indigenous people how to do this. Competition at the expense of others has clearly not worked. It has produced wars, climate change, poverty and a host of other abuses. It is time to correct this imbalance individually and collectively. It is time for each one of us to be who we were created to be and to let our doing flow from our authentic being.
What I am saying sounds radical even to my ears. It frightens me a little because it is unknown and therefore scary. Yet it is becoming increasingly clear to me that our present world crisis is challenging us to uncover wisdom through looking more deeply within ourselves. This also means letting go of many of our old ideas that have been passed down and conditioned our lives. They no longer speak the truth.
I urge you not to accept what I am saying as true but try it out for yourselves. Try trusting your heart more than your head. You could start with spending more quiet time in nature or being creative in your own way. If you do decide to explore your being-ness, just enjoy it, letting go of concern about future outcome. You don’t have to save the planet. Let the planet save you. 🌏🌈⛅️🕸🦋
I gave up my car recently. Is that cause for joy or sadness? I would say both. It is certainly sad to give up a car that you’ve had for 12 years that has taken you to so many places. Cars are often icons of freedom. They symbolize the ability to get up and go somewhere whenever you want. So it was hard to give up my little blue Honda even though I am 90 and the car was sitting in the parking lot most of the time, un-driven. But there was always the possibility that I could get in my car and go somewhere. Of course this was an illusion but we do hang on to our illusions, don’t we? A high repair bill shocked me into breaking through this illusion and facing the reality that it was time to pass it on to someone else. I decided to give the car to my two teenage granddaughters age 16 and 18. I feel very good about that, knowing the car is going to a good home and they can make good use of it. The girls were blown away with surprise and excitement when they heard the news.
I have written before about letting go in my previous blogs. It is what we do when we are old. It is always difficult at first and yet once it is underway, there is often an inner feeling of freedom and ease. I feel a sense of relief at not having the responsibility and expense of the car. Old age is a time of dependence in a culture which values independence. I have always thought of myself as very independent and have been trying for some time to remain that way. Yet as I feel my body declining I realize that independence is not what it is cracked up to be and dependence is not such a bad thing after all, as long as it doesn’t all fall on one caregiver, in my case my wonderful daughter. It takes more planning ahead to arrange for a driver when you have to go out. I am also starting to think about what I will need help with if I want to stay in my home. These are all things that I dreaded at one time but now I am actually in the midst of considering them. You might say that I am presiding over the decline of my own body.
All of you who are younger and able-bodied may not want to think about a time when you have to depend on others for the routine aspects of living. I know that I certainly didn’t want to go there a few years ago. And yet I am learning that once you accept the reality of your new situation it becomes so much easier. I imagine it is somewhat like shedding an old skin that is no longer necessary. I feel a greater lightness of being since there are not as many things I have to do or even want to do. Yes, I miss not being able to move about as freely but I also have less desire to do many of the things that I used to do, such as travelling, shopping and going to social activities. From a soul perspective I am learning a lot about how to receive from others. I am also learning that as a receive I am also a giver. It is not a one way street. It is about Inter-dependence.
I am more content to be at home now and to see the beautiful trees and small wildlife from my window. This is very freeing. The internet also provides many hours of fascinating lectures and courses. I love reading and am grateful that my eyes allow me to continue reading on my kindle. I spend more time alone but I also enjoy visits from friends and family and I belong to a small women’s circle. This may sound like a very small world to some people but it is enough for me. The enough-ness comes about from accepting that this is the way it is. I know of a lady in a nursing home that put it this way. “I am content with the small orbit of my life.” I can so relate to those words.
Most people are reluctant to mention this but I remind myself daily of the certainty that I will be leaving this body some time in the not so distant future. What is unknown is when it will be. It could be years, months or even days. Who knows? Holding this knowledge in my mind and heart helps me appreciate the wonder and beauty of this amazing world we live in. I don’t take this life for granted anymore. I feel so blessed to be alive. Hallelujah!