WHATCHA DOIN'? NOTHING!


One of my Facebook friends recently described herself as an "action junkie." She's always doing wonderful things for important, meaningful organizations, and saving the world and stuff. What she does requires a lot of energy. The world needs people like her and I salute her.

I can't recall a single time in my life when I experienced a surplus of energy. On the contrary, I have to exercise the minute I get up in the morning to get my motor running or else it just idles all day. Does this mean I'm lazy or simply content?

Lazy can be defined as "not liking to work hard or to be active." It's not that I mind working hard, it's just that so many other interesting things get in the way. Although the thought of spending hours on end weeding, as my daughter Sally frequently does, or working on a roof in sub-zero weather all day, as my husband Bill often did, makes me shudder, I can work hard when I have to. But I've recently stopped trying to deny that I'm really really good at doing nothing.

I do enjoy being active . . . to a point. For example, I've always loved travelling to different countries and have never minded the planning involved to get somewhere new, but once I'm there, I don't need to see every sight in the tourist guide. I like to plant myself and simply absorb what it feels like to be immersed in a foreign culture. To me, racing around to see every sight possible before I leave a place takes away from my enjoyment of where I am.

Coming from a culture where bigger, faster, and more productive are better, I've always taken comfort from Mr. Rogers' song, I Like to Take My Time. When my kids were growing up, we lived up the street from a friend who was legendarily productive. Whenever her many accomplishments made me feel horribly inadequate, Mr. Rogers would quietly validate my own nature, which doesn't like to hurry and prefers to do one thing at a time. Thank you, Fred.

If there were a contest for the person who has gone the longest without ever being bored, I would win. I honestly can't remember the last time I was bored for even a minute. I am the queen of contentment. Long lines? I usually carry a book with me, just in case I can squeeze in a few more minutes of reading here or there. If the book is really good, a long line feels like a gift. On the other hand, if I don't have a book, I can always find other ways to entertain myself. I imagine all the people standing in line wearing outrageous underwear or I evaluate waiting styles or I just have fun breathing. It doesn't take much to entertain me.

Often when people come to visit us in the middle of nowhere for the first time, their initial reaction is to feel a little panicky. Their mouths speak of the beauty, while underneath their words you can feel the nervousness. People these days just aren't accustomed to so much peace, quiet, and isolation. Soon after they arrive, they start ticking off on their fingers where they're going to go on what day. After an outing or two, they conclude that it's exhausting trying to find a spot any nicer than ours so they opt for an extended rest in the shade of our porch. Once they settle in, they begin to notice things like the way the wind comes by and wiggles just one branch of one tree for a minute or two and then moves on to support the delicate dance moves of the butterflies. They hear for the first time the faint, soothing rustle of grass in the pasture. Once they've stilled enough to hear that, they begin to detect a new sensation in their bodies: relaxation. They let go of ambition for what they'll do tomorrow and bask in the fullness of the very moment they're experiencing.

In the United States I felt guilty about my passion for doing nothing and was always trying to disguise it with productivity. Here in the countryside of Costa Rica, my aptitude for enjoying nothing is appreciated as a very sensible personality trait. Perhaps I decided to move here the moment I first learned the meaning of the national slogan, Pura vida! Pure life! Just be! Everything you want is here in this moment! In Italy, it's called Il dolce far niente, the sweetness of doing nothing. Of course we all have many things we need to do in order to survive, but if we don't take the time to enjoy what we've done, then why bother doing it?

I think the practice of meditation is gaining widespread popularity because it classifies sitting in stillness as an activity so you don't have to feel guilty about doing it. Maybe someday Americans will get to the point where they can swing from the top of the Empire State Building and shout "Let's all really enjoy doing NOTHING today! It's GOOD for us!"

It's great to head onward and upward, as long as we remember to take frequent breaks to go inward.