Monday, June 8, 2009
Idle hours sooth mind
I did something the other day I don’t usually do – I was idle. I sat by the lake, looked out over the water and enjoyed the view. I wasn’t reading a book or talking on the phone while I sat there. My laptop wasn’t next to me and the television wasn’t on. I wasn’t even listening to the radio or MP3 player. I was sitting - simply sitting – in a beautiful place, being at ease.
Being idle used to be easy. When I was a kid, I’d spend hours lying on the lawn, watching clouds change shapes as they rolled by. I’d go out in my rowboat and drift along, the breeze pushing me from one end of the lake to the other. I’d climb up a crabapple tree and let my mind wander. I had no special agenda and suffered no guilt. Being idle was part of being a kid. It felt right.
That’s not how it feels now.
Adults are supposed to be busy. We have Responsibilities and Important Work. Page 135 of the Grownup’s Handbook specifically states, “Spending time sitting around staring at still water is wasteful and self-indulgent.”
Perhaps it’s a misprint.
It is important to take breaks from the everyday world in which the simultaneous performance of multiple tasks has become the norm. It may even be essential. Just like a computer that needs periodic rebooting, people need to refresh our idea of what normal really is. Normal is being outside and feeling the breeze. Normal is watching the sunrise or the stars fill up the sky at night. Normal is being a part of the natural world instead of existing for days on end within the confines of our technologically connected, air-conditioned abodes.
Despite such feelings, I still find it difficult to be temporarily unproductive. The other day, while I sat staring at the lake’s calm surface, my thoughts kept jumping from one unfinished project to another. In the house, there were dirty clothes to wash, floors to vacuum and bathrooms to clean. In my office, emails filled my inbox, there were articles to write and topics to research. In the garden weeds had grown so tall my back ached just thinking about pulling them out. Yet my resolve remained solid. I knew I needed some time to do absolutely nothing. I was due for a break.
Some months are more hectic than others and that’s how May had been. Although several good things happened in that month, including one child’s wedding and another’s graduation from community college, I still felt overwhelmed and weary. Even celebrations can be stressful. Sitting by the water was my way of being refreshed. Watching the day ease into night, listening to the chorus of chirps, splashes and leaves rustling in the breeze was a kind of elixir, a temperament tonic.
We all have our ways of dealing with stress. Sometimes doing nothing can be the best move of all. It is not my intention to make idleness a full time occupation but I want to feel free to relax as needed without a shadow of guilt or regret. Smart adults learn to turn off the constant stream of mental chatter and tune into the everyday wonders of natural living. In my copy of the Grownup’s Handbook, that lesson is underlined in red.