Blaise Pascal famously said that all human miseries arise from our inability to do this. But I think it’s really just an unwillingness. He’s right about the arising miseries though—not knowing how to deliberately do nothing is a crippling disease that leads to bizarre, self-defeating phenomena like workaholism, cigarette smoking, rude smartphone behavior (see below) and eventually war and pestilence.~ David Cain, from http://www.raptitude.com/2016/03/4-absurdly-easy-things/
Not to be confused with, “doing something that doesn’t advance you towards a goal.” That’s still doing something. A lot of people spend a lot time doing all sorts of that busy-nothing; I see you on the street, in your car, at the cafe, the glow of the TV in your homes, and I can tell by the words that I overhear that all that stuff is important to you. There’s a good book, What Makes Your Brain Happy: And Why You Should Do the Opposite, which I offer for your consideration.
No, I’m asking about “doing nothing” as in sitting, or perhaps lying down, and being fully aware of the reality around you. For many years, I ran in terror from doing nothing. I ran to my todo lists or my goals or my habits designed to improve my life or my TV or my fiction books…
I started by intentionally setting out—if even for a few minutes—to do nothing. I’ve gotten pretty darn good at it these days. What I’m currently practicing is learning that doing nothing is the good stuff I should not feel guilty about.
Why not go do nothing right now?
It’s all about the context. I find that having certain spaces where I do certain things works wonders. For example, if I want to do certain kinds of work, I sit here and all my tools are arrayed. In general, the act of showing up at the designated area and having the environment pre-set to be conducive to the activity is often enough to get my brain to shift into the mode I need.
Have you ever tried to find a chair for reading?
For about a decade I’ve had a typical Pöang chair from Ikea that I sit in to read. It’s absolutely horrible for reading. But it’s better than any chair I have in my house. So buy a chair Craig! …if only I could find one.
High enough at the back so I can rest my head. The whole chair tipped back far enough that I can completely relax and have all of my body settle into the chair. Feet flat on the floor. Padded arm rests. Arm rests high enough that when I hold the thing I’m reading it’s up at eye level.
Sorry. This quest is driving me bonkers.
In response to the question, “Do you think we can educate ourselves, that any one of us, at any time, can be educated in any subject that strikes our fancy?” Isaac Asimov responded:
The key words here are “that strikes our fancy.” There are some things that simply don’t strike my fancy, and I doubt that I can force myself to be educated in them. On the other hand, when there’s a subject I’m ferociously interested in, then it is easy for me to learn about it. I take it in gladly and cheerfully…~ Isaac Asimov, from “His Hopes for the Future (Part Two),” https://billmoyers.com/content/isaac-asimov-part-two/
[What’s exciting is] the actual process of broadening yourself, of knowing there’s now a little extra facet of the universe you know about and can think about and can understand. It seems to me that when it’s time to die, there would be a certain pleasure in thinking that you had utilized your life well, learned as much as you could, gathered in as much as possible of the universe, and enjoyed it. There’s only this one universe and only this one lifetime to try to grasp it. And while it is inconceivable that anyone can grasp more than a tiny portion of it, at least you can do that much. What a tragedy just to pass through and get nothing out of it.
To grasp a tiny portion of it.
I’ve never had any delusions of grandeur—ok, sure, fine. I probably did in my youth. But currently, I do not now have delusions of grandeur. I’m not trying to leave a grand legacy or solve something in math or physics that will earn me a place in the pantheon of science.
I want to enjoy a few simple things, I want to appreciate the fruit of a lot of hard work and luck. Lots of smiling would be nice. Playing with my friends would be cool. I want to make that, “huh,” sound more often; Do you know that sound? It’s that little puff of curiosity one emits when some bit of knowledge clicks into place, or you realize there’s a small patch of your thinking which isn’t as illuminated as you had thought. It’s often followed by, “that’s interesting.”
When is the last time you made that noise?
(Part 33 of 33 in Study inspired by Pakour & Art du Déplacement by V. Thibault)
For me, what defines a human being is the combination of our intellect, our self-awareness, and our mortality. Developing the first two, and in particular becoming comfortable with the third takes a lot of time. It’s clear to me that there are seasons to our human lives. The best description I’ve heard is that of four seasons: roots, fire, water and air, corresponding to beginning, actively carving one’s path, learning acceptance and understanding, and finally wisdom. (This is obviously a variation of the four, classical elements.)
Frequently over the past year I’ve found myself thinking about the transition from the season of water to the season of air. What would the season of air feel like if I experienced glimpses of it from the season of water?
I believe I have an answer: Understanding self-love.
To come to grips with one’s own mortality requires a deep apprehension of the temporary state of our existence, and I now believe understanding self-love is the doorway to the age of air.
Yesterday, there was no post here on the ol’ blog, and yesterday I was ok with that. This is a big deal for me.
I’m obsessive about sticking with systems, and of course I have a system to my mornings which involves setting aside time to write. Yesterday, some other important things came up and I felt my time was better spent elsewhere. After all, “write a post every day” is not a pillar of my self-identity. (“I am someone who blogs,” is a pillar.)
Previously—by which I mean, on any day I can recall, before yesterday—I would have been all over myself, all day about not having had a blog post. I probably would have listed “no blog posts” among the nightly reasons I review while falling asleep as to why the day was a failure.
But somehow, yesterday, there was simply no blog post.
Today you might argue that I’m cheating because I’m writing about writing. But I am writing. Most importantly, I’m writing abot what’s on my mind.
So, what other routines might I be clinging to for no good reason?
I read now for the same reasons I read then — to feel less alone. But I read for more than that: Reading teaches me the answers to problems I haven’t had yet, or to problems I didn’t even know how to describe. And when I feel less alone with what troubles me, it is easier to find solutions. A book to me is like a friend, a shelter, advice, an argument with someone who cares enough to argue with me for a better answer than the one we both already have. Books aren’t just a door to another world — each book is part of a door to the whole world, a door that always has more behind it. Which is why I still can’t think of anything I’d rather do more than read.~ Alexander Chee, from A Velocity of Being, which I found via, https://www.brainpickings.org/2019/06/11/alexander-chee-a-velocity-of-being-letter/
I’ve mentioned elsewhere that growing up, it was a 20-minute drive to anything. A true bookstore, or even a public library, was farther still.
But I do distinctly remember the feeling of being among books. At a book store, at my high school’s library, at the closest [small] city’s public library, and eventually at my university’s two libraries. To be honest, I don’t know when last I thought of that feeling, until it bubbled up, just now as I write. The lighting. The sound-scape. The smells. The furtniture. And of course the books. Knowledge and experiences and surprises and questions beyond belief.
(Woa! I just remembered the huge amount of time I spent thinking about one day having a proper study. My own personal library, meets workspace, meets inner sanctum. And I’m reminded that I’m currently obsessed with finding a good chair for reading.)
But it’s all about the books.
Carl Sagan captured it best when we said, “Humans work magic.”
I’ve come to realize that I love being wrong.
I spent so many years reinforcing the thought that I could be the guy; The guy who swoops in and solves the problem when things get technically complicated, the guy who swoops in and creates order and process out of the chaos, the guy who swoops in and gets things done. Setting aside the analysis of whether or not I was actually particularly good at that, I did “I can be that guy” so much that I had convinced myself that I am that guy.
In The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier talks about the Karpman drama triangle. I’ve certainly played all three roles of Persecutor, Victim and Rescuer. But I realize now that I’m addicted—or perhaps I can be hopeful enough to say was addicted?—to being the Rescuer. In the past year or so it’s become clear to me that it’s vastly more healthy and fun(!) to be part of a team that solves problems and gets things done.
To be the person who asks a question that opens a flood gate of discussion.
To be the person who understands that one’s purpose was to have been instrumental in creating the environment last week, so this week the team solves the problem on its own.
To be the person who is a complete and utter success, by having simply contributed a small addition here, a minor adjustment there.
I’m fond of the old adage, what was once your workout will eventually be your warmup. It captures the inevitability of progress if you simply put in your time. In the beginning, the time spent seems to surface an endless sequence of unknown-unknowns. Bottomless, rabbit holes appear and you have to go far too far down the first few to learn an important lesson about depth versus breadth of knowledge. Soon you begin to realize the beginner’s journey is more or less the same for everyone. You get a few wins under your belt. Someone ahead of you compliments your work. You help one of your peers. Then you help one of those farther ahead of you, and realize the distance you’ve come is farther than the distance between you. You feed increasingly off of the energy of your peer group, bouncing ideas and challenges around like a seasoned practitioner. You look around only to realize there are now a large number of newer people on the journey who are behind you. You’re struck by a deeply pleasant emotional vertigo. You remember running in the halls with your brand new friends full of energy, and you feel recharged and invigorated; You might no longer run in the halls—age appropriateness and all that—but the energy from those who do is absolutely contagious every time. You struggle to refrain from proclaiming, “wait until you see what’s next!” Instead, you redouble your efforts by dashing ahead, behind the scenes, around the next corner, or over the next hill, to help with the preparations. You realize—you apprehend—that you’ve gotten as much out of giving back to help with the process, than you did from going through the process that first time. The cycle repeats. The learning, the friendships, the accomplishments—and quite frankly the advancement of the entire human race—builds with each iteration.
So, when is the last time you started something as a beginner?
When is the last time you showed up a bright eyed and bushy tailed neophyte?
When is the last time you helped the others? Those behind you, those ahead of you, and those around you?