Doing nothing always leads to something.
Winnie the Pooh
I marvel at how much I used to accomplish in a day. I would go from one thing to the next while thinking ahead to what else needed to be done. All the moments were used up in a schedule that was go, go, and go.
I have changed speeds since those somewhat frenetic times, in part because I don’t have the energy to spring from one thing to the next the way I used to. Some days are still busy, but I’m convinced that trying to cram too much in only vexes the spirit and adds little joy to the day. More to the point- I don’t want to rush around anymore.
My sense of time and space have changed over the years. I realize the frame of mind we bring to the tasks at hand, matters. That said, regardless of what needs to be done, the rhythm of the day benefits from quiet intervals in order to transition between activities or encounters- a pause to simply sit and let go of one task so I can get my head around what’s next. The buffer zone of quiet time between busier episodes may be three minutes, or it may be a day if I can manage it, following time away, but anything helps, and it has become increasingly necessary. Intervals are also best accompanied by having physical space to enjoy a modicum of solitude.
Writer Jocelyn Glei refers to quieter time built into the day as White Space. Just as the written word is easier to read with breaks on a page, what we do in a day stands out in sharper relief when we avoid sandwiching tasks between each other. White space marks a departure from the routine that changes the tone of the day and includes such things as going for a walk or gazing out the window.
Nowhere is the shift in how I use my time more apparent than in my morning routine-otherwise known as the ritual of moving slowly. Mornings used to be a frenzy of activity hurrying everyone out the door. Now, with only myself to get out, I wake, greet the trees in my back yard, and sit in my favourite chair sipping coffee before heading out to work. It’s a luxury I cherish.
The best moments of course, are when there is nothing that needs my immediate attention and I am relaxing in a pleasing space.
This may sound like idleness – that so-called vice akin to sloth. I think idleness has been given a bad rap and actually has advantages. First: I have time to take a breather and pay attention to what’s happening around me. Second: ideas, insights, and disparate thoughts that may later be connected in some way, are more likely to emerge from pausing or slowing my pace.
I still sometimes find myself in an internal tug of war between needing to get through the “to do” list (although less often now) and taking a more leisurely pace. After all, success is measured by how many things get crossed off the list. But I know the list is never done, and no one leaves this life wishing they had done more. In the end, what matters is whether each of us is doing what we really want to do.
And what are those things that I really want to do?
Sometimes not much. There are delightful ways of passing time that can so easily be dismissed but are worthy for their own sake. Reading the newspaper, immersing myself in a good book, gazing at the sky, or outdoor play are good uses of time.
What is curious is that the doing of nothing special can lead to something. Idleness is the incubator for inspiration and creative expression- where the ideas, internal knowing, and answers to conundrums present themselves and point to a direction we might consider.
I love such times. Enjoying a cup of tea in a comfortable chair, watching people walk by, or being in nature- all these bring contentment. It is during this time when ideas float through my mind, creeping their way to awareness, if I allow it. They may be unusual, unexpected, weird, or wild. The question is what to do with them? Should I ignore these wild thoughts or push them away lest they take me down a bold path of thrilling but uncharted territory?
It is not lost on me that I keep those floating thoughts and ideas with their associated difficult questions at bay by being busy. Do I need “thrilling” or “bold” in my life right now? It would be so much easier to drift comfortably, doing the same old thing in the same old way.
Idleness helps us appreciate those ordinary moments missed during a busy day -moments that we later look back on and remember. Idleness also creates space for opportunities to surface that cannot be postponed indefinitely at this juncture in our lives. That’s the rub– no more postponing. And so, as author Eve Siegel puts it: What do we want to unfold in our lives right now? Idleness may give us a clue.
Carefree idleness is an invitation to a grander field of possibilities. For me, about to embark on a new adventure with a change in my work life, the question is whether to accept that invitation with no certainty of the outcome. Can I resist being busy in favour of idle past times that lead me down a bold path of thrilling but uncharted territory? A part of me certainly hopes so. Doing nothing may lead to something.
My wild side is urging me forward.