Finding Joy In The Art Of Doing Nothing
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‘‘Stay still for a bit. Do nothing. There will come a time in your life when you’ll crave for some time to do absolutely nothing. So, enjoy this, right here!”
These were words I heard from my English teacher in the eighth grade, who could sense that my classmates and I were getting restless to leave the room long after we’d finished an exam that day.
You see, we were being forced to stay in. While we were seated a few feet apart from each other, talking aloud wasn’t an option. There were only the sounds of the whirring of the ceiling fans, and the slight whining noises some of us were making. Nothing to do. Just stillness, the sound of our own breaths, and an abundance of time.
My teacher’s words seemed completely bizarre to me that day. But over a decade later, amidst a pandemic that has brought the entire globe to a standstill, her words seem almost prescient. That classroom was a mini simulation of the times we’re in right now. Those wise words were meant for a crisis like today’s. When, despite factors like working from home and personal responsibilities keep us busy through the day, we’re all comparatively “free.”
We suddenly have an unending amount of time on our hands, and not much to do. For perhaps the first time in our lives, our phones have started to bore us, and an overdose of TV shows feels almost nauseating. Our social media feeds are bombarded with articles on how to stay productive during isolation, and our favorite celebrities post home workout videos every other day.
It feels almost criminal to not be doing something creative during this quarantine. But please allow me to digress for a moment here. It is of course important to observe that it is a luxury to even be able to think this way. There are hundreds of thousands in the world right now who are on the frontlines of this biological war, putting their own lives at risk. Innumerable people around the world are mourning the loss of loved ones who’ve permanently succumbed to this deadly virus.
At the same time, there are many among us who are mourning the loss of their jobs and livelihoods as a result of the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Keeping all of this in mind, we can try to acknowledge our first-world frustrations with kind acceptance, but also with a sense of latent gratitude. We, with roofs over our heads and fully-stocked refrigerators, are privileged to even be feeling this way.
But let’s turn our attention back to the plethora of “how to stay productive during quarantine” articles on the internet today. As days in self-isolation keep increasing, these posts may bring a source of optimism and hope to some. Setting up a neat workspace at home. Learning a new language. Finally reading the books you bought three months ago that now have an extra layer of dust on them. Starting a blog. Signing up for educational courses. Cooking new dishes. All of these seem like enticing and creative ways of escaping the quarantine madness, and their importance cannot be invalidated.
But one needs to keep in mind that there are those who can’t do any of these things, owing to their own mental baggage. Anxiety. Sadness. Depressing thoughts that often stem from a creeping sense of ineptness and unworthiness. An added question mark to the daily identity crises many are already facing during isolation. All of this, in addition to the already existing paranoia and anxiety owing to the rapid spread of the virus, will surely leave many of us feeling mentally numb. Because let us not forget for a second that none of us are on a paid staycation. None of us are at a retreat to rejuvenate our souls. We are all constantly trying to battle a global pandemic, whilst trying to find some sense of normalcy in quarantine. A period of forced isolation, the length of which remains indefinite.
Which makes me wonder– why isn’t anyone talking about how we can revel in the magic of doing absolutely nothing during this quarantine? What if we didn’t have to be productive, or creative, or extraordinary for a while? For once, we can allow ourselves to get up each morning, and not have a to-do list to check. We don’t have to learn something new every day, and we certainly don’t have to cook up a souffle or a shepherd’s pie in the kitchen.
We can, instead, give ourselves permission to not do anything out of the ordinary. For instance, we can do the dishes and keep our wardrobes clean, but we don’t have to learn a Marie Kondo style of organizing our towels. We may read a book or write something for ourselves, but not think of ways to write the next New York Times bestseller. We don’t have to learn a new language per se, but we can perhaps master the art of looking at the clouds, and not incessantly think about what to do next. We can lie down for an extra hour in the afternoons, and not feel guilty about it.
‘‘Come back to center’’ is a phrase you’ll often hear yoga and meditation gurus say. It is a way of asking your body and mind to come back to yourself. To your core. To your spirit. It is a wonderful little mechanism to find solace every time the chaos of our thoughts seems to get the better of us. It is a term used when you unravel from a difficult pose to find stability. A way of grounding ourselves in the act of not doing, but just being. To let go of the idea that who you are supposed to be is yet to be found. To know, and fully believe, that worthiness and wonder exist within yourself in that moment.
We don’t have to magically learn the art of time/house/life/Excel management during this unprecedented, uncertain phase of our lives. We really don’t! We can all just “come back to center” instead. So, the next time we feel pressurized by the idea of having to do something to have added some value to our lives during this quarantine, let us allow ourselves to let go of that thought, and choose to find joy in the art of doing nothing. As a very popular, fictional little bear by the name of Winnie The Pooh so eloquently put it: ‘‘Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.”