Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The art of nothing...

Complete with pictures of nothing!

Books (July 30, 2010)

Amy Atlas, Party Event Planner extraordinaire, recently wrote a blog about relaxing and being content. In it she asked "what do you do to decompress? What tips do you all have to take a moment and enjoy it all?"

Before I knew it I was writing far more than a response, I was writing a blog post. And so, here you have my response:

I have a friend, Heather, who long ago taught me how to stay in bed all.day.long. It drove me nuts. I wanted to get out! I wanted to do something! I wanted to go be/do/create/see. But there she would sit. In her pajamas. Ordering food, not even making anything to eat. I love Heather. I love being with her. She's one of my very best friends (and really, how many of those do you get to have and keep around?), but this habit drove me bonkers when I would stay with her. But I stayed with her every weekend anyway - she lived in the city, in the fun-fabulous section no less. Even if we didn't go anywhere I could still look out the window and watch the wild assortment of passersby passing by. Or singing. Though that tended to happen late and night when you actually had something to do the next day.

Around 5:00 p.m. or so Heather would rouse, take a shower, slap on some deodorant, do her effortless hair, throw on one of her tops from her never-ending Anthropologie closet and out the door we went - for dinner, and drinks, and whatever else the night might bring (except maybe singing in the streets when you had somewhere to be the next day).

Usually by 5:00 I had given up completely. While Heather was bright and beautiful I was still staring at my 4 black t-shirts I brought and trying determine which, exact black, made me look the best. True black? Jet black? Just black? Washed too many times black?


So what did we do all day?

Well, at first I would bring school work (actually, no, I always brought that), and magazines, and books. After a while though I started leaving most of that behind. We watched endless TV. Endless. If there was a marathon we would (run?) watch it. For some reason Heather has the unbelievable ability to find the movie Frankie and Johnny on any station at any given point in the day. Or Steel Magnolias.

Consider me claire de lune-d out. Love you Debussy. It wasn't you. It was Frankie and Johnny, promise.

We talked. We rifled through junk mail. We watched people and talked about them. We perused her dated music collection (sorry doll, it is/was) or listened to her angsty newer stuff (she's moved on...some...thankfully). I wrote poetry. We ate popcorn. Picked at our nail polish. Stared at the ceiling.

In short, we didn't do anything. And not doing anything includes not wasting endless hours on the internet (though I'm not sure why. Where were our computers?).


And while today we eschew cable television in our house - in favor of cheaper alternatives and less programming, I still remember the ultimate lesson Heather gave me. How to be still and do nothing - and how to forgive yourself for doing so. Funny enough that was the hardest part about "doing nothing" was the guilt I felt that I should be doing something. I had to learn to say:

I forgive myself this day

and whatever that meant.

Here's what I found out:

Doing nothing isn't lazy, though it may feel that way. Your body, your mind, they need time to rest. When do you do your best thinking? The moments before sleep perhaps? When you are asleep? When you wake up? Stuck in traffic? On the train? During an endless meeting? If you didn't have those moments of doing nothing would you ever come up with some of your most creative solutions?

You can't be mindful if you never let your mind rest.

Doing nothing takes practice. Practice is a word we should all use in our lives more often. When I found myself getting competitive in a yoga class a few years ago I had a thought "why is my yoga practice so hard?"...practice. I was practicing yoga. I wasn't performing. I wasn't in front of any audience but myself. Sometimes you have to remember that what you are doing, most of life, is practice, and that many things don't have a final performance. Our big performance is practicing and sticking to things, it is doing the best we can on any given day - because the best you can do on a Monday in June may be completely different than the best you can do on a Friday in December. Just keep practicing.


Doing nothing took a lot of practice for me. A lot. It's still something I struggle to grasp. The most talented, admirable people I know at doing nothing practice it daily. You can't be a Buddhist monk without a lot of practice.

I have numerous other conclusions I could list here but no need to reinvent what has already been thought, said, ruminated upon, or otherwise.

These days I tend to take my doing nothing moments in the morning - mostly because I am incredibly lucky to have a husband who rises earlier and easier than I do. While he spends time with our daughter I do a lot of staring at the ceiling and being. It's wonderful. A momentary mini vacation each morning.

Recently, on vacation, we were lucky enough to have my parents do the early rising. It was lovely, delicious, wonderful - all of those things. Nothing in the world makes me more complete than falling back into a peaceful slumber and waking to a house full of joyful laughter coming from the hearts of my most loved people.


Photography often gives me an outlet as well. As Dorthea Lange said, "The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera." I see more with a camera, experience more. Capture more? Only maybe. That's ok. I forgive myself that too.

What I face now is finding balance. Finding balance in the actual doing - and finding the ways to be most productive when I am doing. There is nothing more frustrating than doing something that is really doing nothing; because truly doing nothing takes an intention and celebrates the joy of quiet, it is not the guilt of wasted time. Funny enough, doing nothing requires a lot of doing something - it requires you to be mindful, to live with intention, and to be purposeful in your actions. And that, my friends, is what makes doing nothing so very, very difficult.

What do you do to take a break, relax, tune-out? Have you learned to forgive yourself yet for doing nothing? What tips or techniques do you have?

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