How often, if ever do you allow yourself to do nothing? Having a cuppa while you scroll through your phone doesn’t count by the way. Neither does curling up with a good book on the sofa and nor does catching up on your favourite podcast while you go for a walk. Those are all valid ways to spend your time but in each of those examples you are still doing something, consuming something with your mind. When was the last time that you just sat outside and enjoyed the feeling of the sun on your face for more than just a few nano seconds before reminding yourself that you had to put a wash on/send an email/do the washing up?
The truth is that most of us actually don’t know how to do nothing or perhaps we deliberately keep busy to distract ourselves from something we’d rather not face. Or it could be that we feel guilty for not wringing the most out of every second of our day. I grew up in a household where both ends of the spectrum were modelled: constant busyness and lethargy. To this day, despite being retired, my mother is completely incapable of relaxing. She fully admits to it and I suspect she might even be proud of the fact. She lives on her own as she has done since my father passed away and it doesn’t take a genius to work out that she keeps busy to ward off loneliness. When he was alive, certainly in later life, my dad was a master of doing very little indeed. In his defence he had to deal with many health complications which took it out of him. But the impression I had was that in his later years he wasn’t really living life, just existing.
So where am I on the spectrum? Somewhere in between, although if I’m honest, it’s nearer my mum’s end. Fortunately I do know how to relax and love a good long soak in the bath with some Epsom Salts. I also have a daily meditation practice. But although the whole point of meditation is to embrace stillness, I wouldn’t class it as doing nothing because it is something that is planned and has a purpose. When it comes to spontaneously doing absolutely diddly squat for no reason other than to just be in the moment, I honestly struggle. Imagine what I’d be like if I hadn’t discovered Yoga!
For me, the culprit is my old frenemy, guilt. As I’m self employed the line between work and down time is extremely blurred. I don’t have anyone to delegate to for starters and it’s impossible to make it to the end of my to-do list because there is no end, there is always something I could be doing to try and drum up business, whether that’s posting on social media or writing a blog in fact. Why do you think I sat down to write this one? I was feeling guilty for not having been very productive today! So perhaps a part of me doesn’t feel like I’ve earned the right to do nothing. Or maybe it’s hard for me to enjoy doing nothing because at the back of my mind, like all working mothers, is the knowledge that there are meals to be cooked, clothes to be washed as well as all the work I actually get paid for.
Remember that glorious day we had a couple of weeks ago? I managed to get out into the garden and did some meditation. When I finished, I was enjoying the feeling of basking in the sunshine so much, that instead of leaping up to carry on doing whatever it was I had planned for that day, I just sat there for a while longer and allowed the rays to soak into my skin. I don’t know how long I was there for, it could have been 10 minutes, or maybe it was only 5. What I do know is that it felt completely delicious and made me grin from ear to ear. When I eventually got up, I felt so much more centred, present and happy. After that my to-do list didn’t seem so pressing any more.
I appreciate that being self employed means that I have much more freedom to choose how to spend my day and that I don’t have someone breathing down my neck to meet impossible deadlines. But the more pressure you find yourself under and the busier you are, the more I would encourage you to try and find a few minutes each day where you do nothing. Maybe just set your alarm 5 minutes earlier so instead of having to rush, you can spend that extra time just admiring the view from your window or really savouring that first cup of coffee of the morning - no phones allowed!
If the lockdown has taught us anything it’s that when the pace of life is slower we learn to appreciate the smaller things in life so much more. As the namesake from one of my favourite films of all time, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, said:
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”
Wouldn’t we all like to be a little bit more like Ferris, just living in the moment and enjoying life more instead of getting bogged down by all our responsibilities? I know I would. So having written this blog, and ticked off something else on my to do list, I’m off to do nothing, I suggest you do the same.