Have you ever caught yourself lying in bed looking at the fan lazily turning over, or gazing at the waves lapping the shore, or just dreaming – in fact, doing nothing? If not yet, then just reading the first line made you long for it. Ignorantly, we call this wasting time. But and in this age of ‘busyness’, idleness could be the way to be. The stress, the chaos, the ‘no time for yourself’ life – doing nothing – could be the only way to give your mind that craved for peace and refresh your energies.
La dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing) – is a way of life perfected by the Italians, especially those in the South. (Spaniards and Greeks do it too, but the poetic Italian words take my vote everytime!) I learned about this concept while watching Elizabeth Gilbert’s masterpiece – ‘Eat, Pray, Love’. The scene is set in a barbershop in Rome, where Julia and her friend get educated on the ways of the Italians. One of the male characters rubbishes the American idea of ‘relaxing’ – working themselves to the bone all week just so they can lay around in their pyjamas on weekends, down six packs and watch other people live their lives on TV. And then he presents the concept of la dolce far niente.
Based on the premise that doing nothing is actually an activity in itself, this idea can develop your problem-solving ability. It can make you creative. It could make you a solution seeker. Research says all these qualities are borne out of letting your thoughts wander randomly. Giving your brain time for self-reflection, improves the quality of your life.
Bill Watterson, the creator of that famous comic strip ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ said, “There’s never enough time to do all the nothing you want.” ‘Time-wasting’ might actually become the movement for people who find themselves running on a treadmill of activity, that has sapped their strength to the extent that they don’t function like normal human beings anymore.
Says author Manjiri Prabhu, “Doing nothing is actually far more productive than people think. For me, it also includes not thinking of doing anything, taking long walks, connecting with nature, watching movies, listening to music, chatting with friends, family or playing with dogs. These things nourish my soul.”
Research shows that indulging in hours, even days, of nothingness is a smarter way to live and work. Realising the need to give people’s brains the much-needed vacuum, companies such as 3M, Pixar, Google, Twitter and Facebook, have made ‘disconnected time’ a key aspect of their workplace. To be disconnected, is possibly, the first step to an idle mind. This January, France passed a law that gives citizens the “right to disconnect” after office hours. They cannot be forced or asked to check official emails or respond to them after work hours.
We have all been told that people who whiled away time were not doing anything useful with their life. But in this age of 24×7 ‘connectedness’, we crave – even lust for – seconds of serenity. Even as we think, we yearn to give our mind a rest. Our fingers are furiously working our smartphones or tablets while other people’s lives and comments occupy our headspace. Fashionably saying “I’m busy” to everyone, we take pleasure in the self-serving indulgence of ‘busyness’. We have enough warning about the ill effects of the ‘connect crave’ and recent studies have shown that our brains get a dopamine hit each time we experience something new. As we scroll through our social media, we get a ‘high’. Given this, Idleness, as a feeling, will not come easy.
A different perspective is brought in by life coach Jasmin Waldmann, who tells us that people are scared to be caught from doing nothing. She explains, “You are confronted with your inner self, and not all of it is ‘sunshine’.” We tend to be happy with mindless activities – phone, social media, TV, etc – that lets us live in the happy bubble we have created around ourselves, instead of letting our thoughts wander off to nothing-land. Author Sanil Sachar’s reasons for the unease is a little different. He says, “Everyone is running to outdo others in this made up rat race. There’s a fear of doing nothing because people think someone else is doing something you should be indulging in.”
How does one go about being idle? Waiting at that traffic signal – still your mind instead of muttering under your breath. In your seat before the film begins or awaiting company at your appointment – don’t play with your phone, just let your mind rest. Take work breaks and let your mind wander to far-off places, or just let it be blank. A blank slate is the best place to start over.
Relaxation, which we seek and yearn for – does not exist in the exotic, in the unknown or in the rare. Relaxation exists within each of us and is ours for the taking if we’re willing to put in the effort towards La dolce far niente – the sweetness of doing nothing!