I believe in doing nothing. Sitting, just sitting; reflecting. No TV. No stereo. No telephone or internet. Not even something to read. I believe in letting the bubbles of original thought simmer on low until boredom forces me to reach further, dig deeper; eventually turning into a roiling boil that churns up a new mixture of old notions. It feels good. Doing nothing is neither idle nor lazy, as today’s task-oriented society seems to suggest; rather, it is important. It is how we move forward as a society. It is the compost pile of genius.
How can we, any of us, think of something new if we have only the time to regurgitate what we learn in school, what we see in advertisements, or what we hear on the news? I have a feeling Galilleo, Socrates, Homer, Einstein, Nitchez, and Steinbeck searched out saturated ennui. Newton’s apple struck him on the head while he was lounging about under a tree—and he saw gravity. He was free to see it.
I have a busy life. I race from home to work, where I think hard about the books I help publish. I race home again and then off to the gym or to see friends. I have laundry to do, food to buy, email to respond to, bills to pay. I spend a lot of time thinking about money, how to get it and how to not fall into the cracks of lifetime debt. I spend time feeling guilty about not calling people I love. And I don’t spend enough time sleeping.
But I am a dreamer. If I fill every spare second of my life with minutia, if I multi-task, if I pour every ounce of energy into getting stuff done, my world becomes depressingly gray. Thankfully, the good stuff in life is there: it just requires space to show itself.
This is not a new idea, of course; Buddhists meditate to empty the mind and reach a higher state of being. Yet our Western society no longer values spare time. A moment free on a calendar is thought of as inefficient; “make the most of life,” we hear over and over again, “don’t let a moment slip away.” Ridiculous, I say. Let them slip. I like doing nothing because it flushes the tickling creativity of childhood back into my life. I think up crazy stories; I hum to myself; I solve problems that don’t even exist; and once, I figured out a different way to factor algebra problems in my head.
Someday I hope to have children. I hope they will be bored; I hope they will spend much of their childhood languishing, staring into empty space and thinking about things I will never know. I hope when other children are racing from soccer practice to voice lessons and eating dinner in the car, that my children will take their time walking home, sometimes wandering off their normal route for no reason at all.
And I hope I can do the same.
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