I’ve been noticing lately that people don’t do nothing anymore. There is no free time. I don’t mean that our schedules are overbooked, although that is definitely true. I mean that there are no longer idle moments in our day.
Whether it’s standing in a line, sitting at the bus stop, or waiting for your order in a restaurant, people are constantly busy doing something. Even when you go to the movies now, the time until the movie begins is filled with commercials, quizzes and online games.
It’s not that there actually isn’t any free time. It’s that we rush to fill our idle moments with something to do. Simply doing nothing for a few minutes seems to be a lost art.
Why is that happening?
One reason might be that people seem to be solitude averse these days. The idea that you could happily spend even a few moments alone with your thoughts is a radical concept for some folks. Maybe that’s because of the incessant conversation that is always going on in our heads. Busyness at least temporarily distracts us from the internal noise. Perhaps we are afraid of being overwhelmed by the steady stream of thoughts if we were to stop for a few minutes of quiet reflection.
The dynamic duo of technology and the internet also provides us for a way to constantly fill our idle moments. In his book The End of Absence, Michael Harris talks about our always plugged in world creating an age in which we never have to be without anything. We have given up ignorance and solitude and filled it with Google supplied instant information and bite sized social connections.
Our culture, where busy is the new normal, doesn’t look favourably on doing nothing. Busyness has become the benchmark for success. There is a subtle judgment that happens of people who appear to be less busy. If you are doing nothing – taking a break or a vacation or watching the clouds float by – then you are not busy enough. Those situations often prompt a comment like “It must be nice to be able to do that. I wish I could,” which really means you are just not as busy as me.
So why should we care about doing nothing?
It is in those idle moments when you get to actually connect with yourself in a meaningful way. You get to pause, take a breath and be present. It’s a chance for some quiet reflection on worthwhile questions like:
What is really important to me?
If I am so busy, what am I busy doing?
Perhaps the frightening thing is that we are creating a new set of habits that will eventually make the idea of free time a distant memory.
So how can we reclaim our free time?
Notice when you rush to fill in your idle moments.
Resist the urge to do it.
Allow yourself to be free to do nothing.
Chinese philosopher Lau Tzu said,
Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.
Wise words. Next time you have a free moment think about it.
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