A Rebel Doing Nothing

I had a glorious morning of sleeping in.  Since I am not a morning person, the 6 am alarm on school days for my son comes far too early. And weekends have not been much better, as I have had activities almost every day of every weekend for more than a month. While I loved each activity, I was ready for a Saturday morning with nothing to do.

I heard my husband and son whispering sometime between 6:45 when my body naturally woke up and 9:45 when I finally slid out from under the comforter. When I told them I was awake and they didn’t have to whisper, they may have actually jumped; I had been so still. But I didn’t let their morning plans interfere with mine. For the next three hours I alternated between a pleasant doze and the wandering rambles of a mind with nowhere else to be.

I’m sure I solved the issues of hunger and world peace, but quickly forgot my brilliant ideas.  The strange waking dreams of a farmhouse I’ve never been to and rescuing children from some kind of child-sacrifice scheme stuck around longer, but are quickly becoming fuzzy too. The latter I decided must have been my mind processing a conversation I had with a colleague recently about Abraham and Isaac in the Bible (Genesis 22) and last Thursday’s Peter Pan rehearsal of the scene where Captain Hook plans to blow up all the children on the pirate ship. Fortunately in all these stories, including my own, there’s a hero to save the day.

Often when I have these long mornings, I spend part of my time in bed journaling the 101 ideas for writing that the down-time muses have offered. Today I didn’t even do that. No journal, no phone, no conversation about who would feed the dog, just nothing.

When I finally emerged from my comforter cocoon and turned to breakfast and my daily Linked In news fix, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Highlighted was a news brief on Olga Mecking’s “The Case for Doing Nothing” in the New York Times. It turns out my morning leisure even has a name in Dutch, niksen, described as “doing nothing,” “gazing out the window,” and “sitting motionless.”

Mecking reports on studies indicating that our “busy” lives cause all kinds of spiritual, emotional and physical problems, while undermining our ability to be creative.  Commenting on the article, Laura Jones, Senior Director of Commercial Law at Avaya, suggests that it “is the act of the rebel” to do nothing in the modern world.

“I’m so busy,” has become an indicator of self-worth in this country.  Important people are busy, so if I’m always on the move, I must be important. Like so many people, I fall prey to answering “How are you doing?” with “Busy,” rather than the traditional “Fine, how are you?” In the past several years I have tried to be more conscious of this and even stop it when I can, but I hear it slip out far more often that I would like.

So it is a treat to admit that I sometimes do nothing. And I don’t really do it for my emotional and physical health, though I know it makes a difference.  And I don’t really do it for my creative self, though the writer in me craves it. I don’t even really do it as a spiritual practice, my Sabbath with God, though I know my well-being is why sabbath was prescribed in the first place.

I realized when I read Laura Jones’ words that more often I do nothing as an act of rebellion.  I know that the world is not the place the Divine wants it to be. I know that the world is constantly telling me to “Do do do…,” and looks at me askance when I am lazy instead. And my niksen moments are a way of telling the world that I simply don’t care about its judgment. “You go, Girl!” shouts my rebel.

When the world looms large, I look back and smile about my own secret insurgence. And then I go and do the dishes. “Did you feed the dog, honey?”

When was the last time you really were able to do absolutely nothing? The articles speak about niksen not even being a time for meditation or self-care like exercising; it really is doing nothing. Would this be something you would enjoy, or, like many people Mecking interviewed, something you would have to practice? What kinds of indulgences might actually be little rebellions against things in your life that imprison you? How might that redefinition change how you make time for them?

My work in spiritual direction and contemplation has taught me the value of so many things that society sees as inefficient or even wasteful. If you want to talk about how a little “nothingness” might open up new areas in your spiritual, emotional, and physical well-being consider a retreat or individual spiritual direction with Openings: Let the Spirit In.

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