The Joy of Doing Nothing

Even though my articles are typically geared toward Naptime Activism, I want to check my assumption that we need more activism—more activity—and talk about doing less.

In fact, I want to talk about the joy of doing nothing.

Woman reading books outside

By doing nothing, I’m not talking about a non-work day when you do errands and catch up on the house. I mean a freeform day in which you don’t plan to do anything, but just let the day unfold, as it will.

This kind of freeform time when you let the day lead could be called sacred time because there is a holiness to trusting things as they are and not planning or controlling them.

Milk Time

If you’re lucky, this is the kind of time you have or had with a new baby. While we often wish, during the early years of parenting, that this kind of freeform “milk time” would be less chaotic, when we think back on it, what we remember is its sweetness.

As the poet, Joan Logghe, says in her poem, “Surrender,”

I took off my watch
When labor began.
For weeks there was only
Time of cries and breezes
Only the time of iris
The day was spring
And so was the hour.
The minute was milk
And the feeling.

Our Aspirational Culture

As “milk time” passes and our children get older, time itself seems to speed up. We are so busy with so many activities that we literally don’t know how to stop.

You know the drill. You must sign your children up for all kinds of activities during their two and a half months of summer freedom because their brains might drain away and because, well, that’s what a good parent does.

And, now with school starting you want to make sure your child is taking dance or gymnastics and you are probably wondering when he or she should start learning an instrument and looking into Suzuki.

Related: Want Happier, Calmer Kids? Simplify Their World.

The pressure in our society to be more than you are is tremendous. In our aspirational culture, we have bucket lists, and passion calendars and don’t feel good about ourselves unless we are always getting better. With back to school time and fall coming up, things will speed and, by the end of the year, we’ll feel out of breath and glad that the holidays are over.

How Do You Regenerate?

One of the ways to counteract this feeling of overdrive is to think deeply about how you regenerate. Often going to nature helps, but this can just mean going outside in the yard. You may want to set a day a week as your family’s “Soul Day” or “Green Day” or “Do Nothing Day.”

Mother and son playing with cat and relaxing

Don’t have a fixed idea or agenda for this day. It’s just about setting the intention to stop for a while. That’s part of the joy of doing nothing. You’ll figure out how to do it.

You could use this day to do some activity in nature or something together as a family, but try just doing nothing.

Maybe this is the day you have hodgepodge for dinner. Pull everything out of the fridge and have a picnic in the living room.

Maybe this is the day you allow yourself to read all day in your pajamas.

Now, I understand that you can’t read all day in your pajamas when you have a toddler, but you can go outside and sit in the grass while your toddler climbs on you. You can lay with your toddler in a kiddie pool or run in the sprinkler. You could play games with the family, board games or badminton. Just try to keep yourself from “catching up on things.”

The Ordinary

To slow down, it’s necessary to embrace the ordinary. What about simple everyday life? Is it not enough? Is it not rich enough for us? Does it not have enough content?

Why are we afraid to allow our children or ourselves to be bored? Boredom is the cauldron of creativity, a fertile ground for new ideas and new inspirations to bubble up.

Mary Oliver describes the ordinary in her poem “The Summer Day,”

“I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last and too soon?
Tell me what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”

There will always be an inevitable push and pull between being and doing.

Can we accept ourselves just the way we are or do we only feel worthwhile when we are achieving? While achievement is important both personally and socially, it’s not possible without regeneration. We often tell our children that they are all right just the way they are.

Can we believe it about ourselves? For one day a week, can we just be?

Related books:
The Joy of Doing Nothing by Rachel Jonat
Do Less: A Revolutionary Approach to Time & Energy Management for Busy Moms by Kate Northrup

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