I am so busy doing nothing, that the idea of doing anything — which as you know, always leads to something — cuts into the nothing and then forces me to have to drop everything.
~ Jerry Seinfeld
I just might be a hardcore couch potato. There, I said it. The truth is, I love to sit around. Of course, I’m not exactly doing nothing. I do a lot while I lounge about. Talking, reading, writing, thinking – these are my favorite pastimes and conveniently all can take place from my living room sofa.
(Does anyone remember that children’s show The Big Comfy Couch? Well, my dust bunnies might be bigger. Seriously. Oh, and I wish I had as much cool stuff tucked under my cushions as Loonette the clown does, but there’s just lint...and aforementioned dust bunnies.)
Don’t get me wrong, I have to get up off the couch plenty. I exercise, run errands, do laundry (now and then), cook for and feed various people, even clean once in a while. Okay, all kidding aside -- I don't channel surf, nor do I gorge on junk food and I’m also an animated person in my demeanor. People even describe me as energetic and enthusiastic...and I am, just not by inclination. Yes, if only they knew the truth, that by nature I’m more of a sloth. Now, sloth is considered a sin by some and a trait to be ashamed of. I guess I have been embarrassed by my slothiness at times. Everyone else seems to be so busy that I tend to feel a little guilty. Or at least, I used to.
We live today in a culture of busy is better. Ask someone how they are, and more than likely the answer will be “busy” – complete with the litany from an exceedingly long to-do list. This is not necessarily a good thing. An article in the NY Times last summer refers to busyness as trap, even further, as a means of hedging nothing short of existential angst. I’ve noticed that the complaint of being over extended is almost treated as a badge of honor. Everyone is trying to cram so much living into their lives that they aren’t actually living IN their life – instead they are continuously burying every present moment with frenetic activity, and often as a means for distraction.
(There are people in this world for whom free time truly is a luxury. They work harder in order to survive than most of us can possibly imagine. People in those circumstances are obviously not busy for the sake of being busy. To them, no doubt, this could all sound churlish or elite; they should have such problems. Mindful of that let me just say – busy is clearly relative.)
As I blogged about recently, during breast cancer treatment I did a lot of reflecting on what mattered most to me. When my mortality seemed immanent I didn’t care about projects I’d never complete, activities my kids didn’t participate in or how messy my house got (as if). Every single ounce of guilt or expectation went right out the window. Think about that -- no expectation, no guilt. It was a rare opportunity, a moment of unprecedented clarity for me. And as I went thru the mental files of my life I realized some of the best memories were the times I just sat still and talked with my children...listening to all their thoughts, great & small. It was those precious moments with no agenda, no pressure to accomplish anything, that gave me great joy.
I’m not suggesting everyone sit on their couch and vegetate for the sake of happiness. Things need to get done, sometimes a lot of things...and sometimes we want to engage physically. Being active is healthy; in fact, it’s one of my personal goals, to be more active. But it’s another goal of mine to let go of as many inessential activities as possible...to gently cull from my life what is unnecessary, because being busy is, in my opinion, decidedly not better.
Kids need ample unstructured time to let their imaginations grow...and so do us grown-ups. We need time to slow down, to stare out the window and day dream, to be creative not as a means to an end but for the sake of creativity itself...we need time just to let our minds wander...we need time to be. Socrates said an unexamined life isn’t worth living. If you are too busy filling every moment with a flurry of activity then there’s no time to examine anything to begin with, let alone much of any substance worth examining when all is said and done. Busy is not only not better; it can be the very thing that, instead of filling your life, leaves you completely empty.
I found out there are others interested in letting go of busy, such as those in various slow movements --slow food, slow home, heck, there’s even slow fashion! But truthfully I feel like some of these slow advocates are still too ambitious for a slacker like me. Perhaps my speed isn’t slow, it’s off -- as in turn off everything, sit down and settle back for a bit, get reacquainted with your family, your friends...and your own self, too.
Like at this very moment...I am sitting (where else) on my couch typing these words. My kids will be up soon, and the first thing they will do is come sit next to me, curling into my waiting arms all groggy and still warm from sleep. I’ll put this laptop aside and breathe them in, take a moment to absorb the sweet scent of childhood in its precious brevity. We’ll talk about what they dreamed last night and what they want to do today. I’ll remind them we have chores and schoolwork, but after that the day, this day, is ours. We’ll begin it from this place of centering, the middle of our lives and our home, this humble, slightly sagging, well-worn sofa. The dust bunnies will be there, too, lurking...and that’s okay. They can hang around for a little while longer...I don’t mind. I have more important things not to do.