Y’all, I’ve forgotten how to do nothing.
It makes a certain amount of sense – stuck at home for a year-plus during the pandemic, when I couldn’t do a lot of fun, social things I’d ordinarily be doing, coupled with firming-up plans for two big pandemic moves, I got up every day and tackled some part of the ever-increasing, never-ending task list. The pandemic was terrifying, the planning/decluttering/moving was stressful, it was all a big ol’ ball of bleargh. I brought my job with me remotely, which is a positive in terms of being employed but also for adding structure to my rapidly-changing life, which is good for me.
But what the heck happened to my ability to just … loaf? Sit around and watch the dust motes dance as the light shifts from morning to afternoon, read a magazine, take a nap, without feeling like I should be mopping the kitchen floor or going through my unopened mail?
I clearly remember being able to do nothing like a pro – sit on the couch and dream. Or sit at the beach, for instance, staring out at the sea. Maybe I’d read a book. Blissful afternoon naps on the porch or in a hammock. That sort of thing. On vacation, my nothing-doing is often of the flâneur variety – lots of slow, aimless wandering of unfamiliar streets, pausing to eat or sit on a bench while watching the world pass by. On a rainy day, I’d be perfectly content sitting in a hotel room reading a book, maybe popping out for tea.
After the most sedentary year of my life, sure, I want to get out, even if it means wearing a mask (again) due to delta COVID. I walk in the early morning through my neighborhood, the afternoon on errands, the evening for free, live music on the Plaza. And that’s all great! But sometimes what I want to do – what I feel like I need to do – is just sit and be still, and every time I get antsy. After about twenty minutes of live music, that things-to-do-places-to-be urge pops up. I want to linger, and … somehow I can’t. I look at people napping on blankets in the shade at the park and am manifestly jealous.
I guess I could read this popular, well-reviewed book on how to do nothing, although the irony has stopped me thus far (I’d need to do two things: buy it and read it.) It does sound pretty great, though, so maybe I’ll order it. I’m terrible at meditation, probably for the same reason I struggle to sit still. Googling “how to do nothing” led me to this article in the Guardian, one man’s quest to get comfortable doing nothing, where he shares this hilarious / depressing nugget:
“A 2014 research project by the University of Virginia asked individuals to sit alone in a room and entertain themselves with their own thoughts for 15 minutes. Should they find the task too difficult, they had the option to distract themselves with a small electric shock. Across 11 separate studies, most people said they hated being left to think. Two-thirds of men and a quarter of women chose to electrocute themselves at least once, just to alleviate the boredom.”
Right this second I’m pretty much as close to nothing-doing as I get these days: I’m writing this while drinking an iced chai. (Sidenote: they’re jackhammering up the patio next door, which they politely warned me about ahead of time, so I spent much of today out walking and running errands.)
Highlight of the week: two separate and wildly different acupuncture/Chinese medicine treatments, dealing with my ongoing, out of balance stress-response issues. I was practitioner-shopping since in my experience it’s a longer-term relationship rather than a one-shot deal. The first felt very traditional (tiny needles and moxibustion) and was in a wonderful old adobe studio with coved ceilings and New Age vibes and felt like the consummate Santa Fe experience: 10/10 would repeat (and I’m already scheduled.) The second practitioner is in a decidedly less groovy and meditative space, a modest new-ish building where you can hear the neighbors through the walls. However, after chatting with me for awhile and checking my pulses, she leaned hard into a different direction – gua sha, a little bloodletting, digging her strong fingers into various tension points on my upper shoulders and sternum. I’m making it sound awful and it wasn’t; it was … kind of an unexpected and wild ride, honestly, in a stress-releasing way, and I felt great after. So, I’m going to see her again too. It’s not … nothing, but it’s something. We’ll see where it leads.
Winner of the Scents of Egypt class with Dora Goldsmith: shiva-woman! I’ll connect you with Roxana.
So … what are you doing? Do you just hang out and chill and enjoy the moment? How do you get there mentally?
I’m reading library books slowly — so slowly they have to be renewed. And like I always do, I have wholeheartedly embraced watching the Olympics. I’m totally, utterly non sporty and unathletic, but the drama and emotion, the pageantry, the idealism of the Olympics completely draws me in. My family thinks I’m ridiculous and mocks me by calling me Coach Dina.
HAHA COACH DINA. I have a stack of library books — one of the happiest days in my (recent) life was when the local library reopened, I was in there that day to get a card and some books!
and… to answer your question: I think you can regain it but probably incrementally. Maybe take a walk without your phone (I know! What a concept, eh?) – TGirl is back to wanting to walk just a bit but it’s with frequent stops (from our walkway to the corner usually requires at least one stop and once we cross the street (she is not above lying down in the street) it’s a 3-4 stop walk to the middle of that stretch of sidewalk. I leave my phone at home on purpose – there is no reason I cannot walk a block without it – and I use that time to start to rewire my brain to Do Nothing. For those minutes, it’s just me and TGirl, the grass, watching the kids play, the sky – alladat. It’s a nice feeling.
I mostly have been walking without my phone for just that reason — I want to be in the moment, not taking photos of it. But I brought it along because I kept seeing things (like that street-crossing-sign) and thinking DAMMIT I WANT A PHOTO. It’s monsoon season here and the wildflowers are doing their thing and it’s extraordinary, a different kind of abundance than wetter climes. But I do have ringer off etc. so my phone’s not demanding attention when it’s in my handbag. And/but I so miss that about having an old dog … just moseying at Lila’s pace, stopping and standing and looking around. Dogs really ground you in the moment.
Eons ago, back in the Jurassic era, I found myself at the Ritz in NYC (in a Junior Suite, no less – still don’t know how that happened) and it was a Saturday morning. NYC! Need to get out there and NYC!!! NYC!!!! y’all.
Except it was pouring with rain and it was an early Saturday morning and I… eh.
So I did something I rarely do when on holiday in some marvelous place like NYC!!!! I went down to a leisurely breakfast and then… when I got back to my Junior Suite…. I turned on the television.
Sat there on the sofa, in my Junior Suite, with the rain banging down hard outside the windows… and watched an old Nelson Eddy/Jeannette McDonald movie (the one where she’s an opera singer and he gets murdered by the man she ends up marrying and she powders her shoulders and they live HEA in the afterlife)
It was such a subversive thing to do that, 30+ years later, it remains one of the highlights of my many, many trips to NYC.
Ha! The subversive luxury! I feel you — you’re in NYC / Paris / Rome etc., ya gotta get out there and DO STUFF. But that hotel-room sitting and a movie sounds just perfect. <3
That sounds glorious — the height of luxury! Sigh. Adding it to my Bucket List! 🙂
I think that you will decompress in time, March. Your brain has been engaged in high gear for a while now and it needs to be re-trained, and that’s a gradual process. I had a neighbor once who told me that she loved cleaning green beans because it gave her an excuse to sit outside on a summer afternoon without guilt. I, on the other hand, have no guilt about just sitting. Sometimes I close my eyes and concentrate on listening, it’s very soothing.
Ha with the cleaning green beans! I have a similar “meditation” which is every day it’s not raining I go out and pull up the fresh crop of dozens of Siberian elm tree seedlings sprinkled around the yard, gotta get them when they’re small. I think I am slowly starting to decompress and open up to the wonder of each day, but I’m impatient about it. I want to be that person again.
I love doing that – just sitting and listening. I usually keep my eyes open to watch the birds, though.
Acupuncture looks so cool. I love watching it on TV.
You may know I vacillate wildly between two speeds: Flat out and Flat out. I’m either making things happen or enjoying absolute stillness. I think the bath helps, also I can do a 15 minute nap that totally refreshes and re-centres.
Hey, did you watch the recently released film Palmer? It stars Justin Timberlake and one of my favourite actors on the rise Alisha Wainwright. WOW! Every person is so believable, it had us laughing, crying and on board from the very first minute. Do yourself a favour.
I have not seen Palmer, and I will check it out! I think JT’s a better actor than people give him credit for. Acupuncture — highly recommend. I tried it years ago for the first time (with a general eye-roll but I was desperate) and there’s something very … calming and centering about it.
Yeah, he owns this film. Completely submerged in the character.
Also, on a completely different tack. If you can stand a RomCom with all the predictable plot lines I just watched When In Rome with Kristen Bell and a whole host, nay a cavalcade, of stars. It’s worth it just for the cameos.
HA! I’m not eye rolling acupuncture it at all. Too many people I know have experienced real relief from it. Even some people who went VERY unwillingly came out with remarkable change.
I so get this. It’s like a tiny hamster in my head that keeps thinking of other things I need to be doing. Crazy stuff.
THE TINY HAMSTER. I want to tell mine, chill out, tiny friend! Take a load off. Take a nap.
The one place I can make myself do it it during the summer, outside, floating on my back. It is such an alien thing to cut of sound and have only sensation. I try to do it as much as I can, even for a couple of minutes. It’s like being in the place in between… somethings.
‘between somethings’ is the perfect place to be!
I despair of ever feeling truly relaxed. For whatever reason I have chronic background anxiety, and on top of that I am very unhappy with the house I just bought and moved into, which has cranked the level of stress up considerably. Fortunately in 6 weeks I can leave here and go back to my home in San Diego for the winter where I feel comfortable at least, and plot how I am going to get myself out of the predicament I am in. When things are going well I am a pro at doing nothing, although that usually includes reading, so I guess it’s not totally nothing.
Oh no! I’m sorry about the house, but glad you’re heading back to San Diego, which I have not visited — I don’t know why, I hear it’s absolutely lovely.
Tara C – I see a ‘For Sale’ sign in your near future.
xoxoxo (don’t forget – it’s just a house. I used to buy and sell houses all the time, just because. It’s Just A House)