How to Embrace Idleness
“Idleness for me is not a giving up on life but a spirited grabbing hold of it.” ― Tom Hodgkinson
Learning how to embrace idleness is hard. It is Saturday morning. Arctic air has settled in Detroit and it is snapping cracking cold outside. If I look closely I see the tiniest of snowflakes flying around out the window. I have been up for two hours getting lost on the internet in my usual places: Facebook, email, The New York Times, NPR. However, I feel a bit frantic, no dispersed and unfocused. My mind is jumping all over the place unsure of direction, demanding I get something done. My breath is shallow and my shoulders are clenched up to my ears. Inside of me a fight is brewing between get something done and relax, enjoy life. The get something done feels known and urgent. It is hard, grey and steel, an old crumbling sidewalk littered with trash and dried gum. The relax, enjoy life feels peaceful, languid, like a foreign land that is beautiful and lush, plumb green leaves on trees filled with colorful song birds.
I find myself in this situation often as I am learning how to let go of doing and busy as a measure of my worth.
I feel the creative impulse yet I am fearful of creating hard goals because I don’t want to live my life as I have on the dirty sidewalks of busy and striving. My therapist suggested I write a list of possible creative projects and see what floats up and resonates the most, no matter what plans to feelings of get things done are stomping around my belly kicking up anxiety.
This morning I am not sure what resonates. Do I write a blog post or write newsletter? Do I use a prompt and do a timed writing? Do I finish revisions on a small flash piece to submit some place? Do I paint? Do I draw? Do I finish preparing new panels (boring but makes me feel productive)? How about read one of the hundreds (I am not kidding) of books I have stacked around me? Do I take a photo? How about go on a photo walk? Redo a page on my website? How about meditate? Do some yoga or qigong? Try out a new recipe?
I feel so overwhelmed by all of my choices. So I freeze and instead of picking something that feeds my need for creative expression, I default to easy— I scroll and click, getting lost down rabbit holes online of new photographers, essays and blog posts by my favorite authors, classes I can take, real estate listings in New York City (we have no intentions moving), or how to add new code to my website.
I am being idle and this might be the whole point.
The reality is I don’t have to do a damn thing. It is a quiet Saturday morning. Riggins, my black cat, is sitting next to me, so close her fluffy black tail is swishing across the back of my hand as I type. An empty cup of coffee and a large mug of hot peppermint tea sit on the desk in front of me. The scent of sandalwood surrounds me from the lit candle I bought at a little boutique over the holidays. My little corner of the world is cozy and warm. This is good. This is what I dreamed of for so many years when frantic activity filled every inch of my life because stopping caused so much anxiety I thought I was going to explode.
On the desk right under the monitor sits a white 3x5 index card with the permission of how to embrace idleness, how to let go of my inner struggle. Written in my messy handwriting is a reminder I wrote to myself many months ago:
Remember Life is not a relay race. There is no time table. There is no right order of events. There is no deadline. I am not late. Life is enough. I am enough.
I breathe, take a sip of my tea. My shoulders drop, my belly releases. This is enough. Being idle is enough.