The Art of Doing Nothing

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By Christy Begien, Christy’s Non Toxic Lifestyle

Great book title right?! I’m IN! About 8 years ago, I discovered this book while I was looking for a little validation for doing nothing, basically. I come from a family of hard workers and strong work ethic. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing but I do believe there needs to be a balance of hard work and self -acceptance in being a little, okay, I’m going to say it, LAZY! We hear the word “lazy” and it usually has a negative connotation, right? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines lazy as: not liking to work hard or to be active; not having much activity; causing people to feel that they do not want to be active; and moving slowly. Take a 2-minute break. So let’s think about this for a minute. Could taking time to be “lazy” actually be a good thing? Read more about what I’ve learned about the “art of doing nothing!”

In her book, The Art of Doing Nothing: Simple Ways to Make Time for Yourself, Ms. Vienne advises us on the beauty of savoring life’s simplest moments, especially for our culture of overachievers and those with busy, fast lives. This French/American author provides us practical everyday ideas for rest and relaxation, espousing the notion that “being” might be more significant than “doing.” This lovely book is full of delicious photos by Erica Lennard and delightful essays on the joy and benefits of staying in the moment, meditating, watching the sunset; even the simple joys of taking a bath or nap or simply sitting and pondering life without the guilt.

I think of my daughter and of her peers — busy, busy mom’s, whether working inside or outside the home. As someone who has “been there, done that” there is a tremendous amount of guilt when faced with the opportunity to do nothing or to tackle a home project. This actually applies to all women in particular who have been hard-wired or raised to always be “productive” or always “doing” something. Many moms have said that they can’t think of something “fun” to do when they have some extra time.

Ms. Vienne, also the author of The Art of Being a Woman: A Simple Guide to Everyday Love and Laughter advises: “Don’t be so focused on your performance that you ignore the world around you. If you are a Type A personality, pretend to be a Type B: Lie down on the carpet for no reason and stare at the ceiling. Make eye contact with a baby. Interrupt your train of thought to watch the twitching whiskers of a sleeping cat. When is the last time you (by yourself) laid down on the grass and watched the passing clouds?

Most of us know that other people, particularly those in Europe, take the month of August off to “play” and/or do nothing. In other cultures, there are regular afternoon naps or siestas. It’s the norm, not the exception.

The Joy of Laziness: Why Life Is Better Slower — and How to Get There. Another book I picked up years ago tackles another perspectives on doing nothing as it relates to our health. Peter Axt, Ph.D and Michaela Axt-Gadermann, M.D. the authors, present a whole different take on idle time.

Here are some really eye opening theories from this book based on both scientific and anecdotal sources:

  • Each of us begins life with a calorie and energy account from which we can draw on in the years to come. Sooner or later, depending on our lifestyle, the account is used up. It is up to us whether we will travel thriftily through life or rush through it wastefully. Perhaps the Type A lifestyle is not so great for our health in the long run.
  • If we succeed in lowering our metabolic rate and thereby our consumption of energy, we will age more slowly. The result: a long and healthy life.
  • Energy consumption is largely dependent on our lifestyle. High energy use accelerates the aging process, makes us more susceptible to illness and can even shorten our lifespan.

The Joy of Laziness contains useful quizzes to determine our stress levels, life energy and total physical well-being. In addition there are energy saving suggestions for eating, working and exercise as well as valuable tips and charts for using mild to moderate energy as we age.

“Never be afraid to sit awhile and think” wrote playwright Lorraine Hansberry (1930-1965) Do not be afraid of peace and quiet, of doing nothing, of laziness-for during this seemingly unproductive time you are doing something wonderful for your organism: You are saving energy.

I realize this particular book presents some opposite viewpoints on how we expend energy to those many of us have been conditioned to hearing. Engaging in high energy activities may perpetuate great health for some but perhaps not for others. I am one of the latter. My health history has proven that when I engage in high intensity health regimens, my body reacts adversely and I usually get sick. I have learned and my body appreciates the gentler activities I participate in.

I remember a wise, yoga instructor (former nurse) friend of mine who said this to me 11 years ago-“the harder you work your joints, the faster they wear out.” Hmm…. My mom is a great example of moderate to low impact exercise. At 83 she walks everywhere and has had no need for knee or hip replacements. My father-in-law, has been taking daily naps for 30 years and looks and acts 20 years younger than his 86 year old age.

We have heard so many suggestions from fitness gurus on various regimens to keep us young and healthy. It’s always hard to hear about those marathoners who die at early ages-after all, they were in supposedly great health and worked out everyday. Maybe some of these folks suffered from genetic issues, but then what about those who didn’t? In the quest for optimal health and anti-aging, could we be open to more moderate routines and more time for stargazing?

I know many of us head to our fitness centers for various rigorous workouts when we have time, but I also invite you to consider these “slow” activities –

Don your garden gloves and lose yourself in creating beauty around you-clip some little flowers and bring them indoors to your bedroom, eating or living area. Take a “lazy” stroll in a nearby park or your neighborhood, around a lake or mountain trail, a gentle bike ride to your favorite coffee or tea shop; curl up with a favorite book, stare at the stars, listen to your favorite music. The idea here-let’s give ourselves and each other permission to do nothing and to feel joy, not guilt. Further, let’s keep it simple — little cost and whatever time you want to give it. In these simple acts of pausing in our lives, we might just save some energy, age more slowly and stay healthier.

As I finish this post, I’m taking my own advice, and heading upstairs for a midday soak in the tub!

Peace and Joy in Doing Nothing!

Christy is a Colorado native and returned to Denver 5 years ago after living on the east coast for 25 years. She’s a 10 year breast cancer survivor and researcher, passionate about finding new, everyday, simple changes one can make to stay healthy. She’s lived single motherhood, is currently happily married and has worked full-time over the years. She also loves family time, her treasured friendships, photography, reading, gardening, cooking, volunteering and travel. She is also certified in Feng Shui and recently completed Reiki level I training. You can learn more about Christy on her website: Christy’s Non Toxic Lifestyle.

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