“How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward.” Spanish Proverb
Pam and I recently returned from holiday in Spain. The proverb above is Spain, so famous for afternoon siestas. In my opinion, this practice betrays an age-old yet very sophisticated understanding of the richness of a life that is not focused on work. For many Spaniards work is something “you do,” not someone “you are.”
This is certainly and most assuredly not an American tradition, where coming into work early, avoiding lunch break, and staying well after hours is either rewarded or demanded. Truthfully, in many places of work “over-time” has become “expected-time.”
I once consulted with a very famous American firmed that essentially required 14 hours per day of work from their massive work force. But it is not only companies that demand extra work, we, as a people, have become so accustomed to identifying ourselves with our work, we cringe emotionally at the thought of “doing nothing.”
I am reminded of a quote from Anne Wilson Shaef (the author that defined work in America as an addiction), who writes…
“For many of us the thought of doing nothing is terrifying. We can’t imagine what life would be like if we were not slaving away at our projects. Not to have projects waiting for us is like trying to live with parts missing.”
I Want to Be Bored
I remember a statement by a highly successful and grossly overworked professional (Beth Ganem) that once said to me, “I want to feel bored. Remember when you were a kid and could feel the numbness of not having anything to do? Well, I want to feel that way right now.”
The problem emerged vividly for me when I experimented with retirement a few years ago. I was deeply haunted by thoughts of uselessness and boredom. It was at that time I realized just how totally inculcated I was into the American work ethic that defines who we are as a person.
What if we were to challenge ourselves with a different obligation, one that resonates with the cyclical nature of life? There is a time to work and there is a lot of time not to work.
Not Doing Is Often Non-Obligatory Doing
For instance, today I dabbled at a bunch of stuff that was not work related. I woke to reading, meditating, and contemplating and then drifted off to Google in search of an apartment in Lisbon, Portugal for one month this coming summer. This evening we shall see the new James Bond movie. And in the middle… I wrote a blog.
Such a pleasant day. One that comes with older age and richer perspective. I hope you won’t wait as long as I did to discover and appreciate “doing nothing.”
When Not Doing
Becomes More Important than Doing
Photo courtesy of NataBene at istockphoto
Credits to Bill Britton