Are We Forgetting How to Be

Spring has arrived late this year, but the warm days are arriving and the main flowers in the garden are coming into bud; Geraniums, Lavender, Cistus, Hollyhocks. The early flowering shrubs are almost ready to bloom too; Honeysuckle, Clematis and Broom, the Lilac and Flowering Cherry are already past their best. Later the Buddleia, Hydrangea, Climbing Roses, Mombresia, Canterbury Bells, Aster and others will come in in turn, adding their splashes of colour.

Gardeners will probably have noted that I keep a fairly low maintenance plot. Well there’s no sense making hard work of something that can be enjoyed with minimum effort.

One of my favourite pastimes in summer is sitting in the garden watching insects on the various flowers. Honey bees love the Lavender, Butterflies flock round the Buddleia.

I can sit for a whole afternoon just watching nature happening right in front of me. What a glorious waste of time� Or is it?

As pace of modern life becomes increasingly frenetic, as the constant stream of propaganda from the conspicuous consumption industry becomes more intense, as we are brainwashed with the idea that to sit doing nothing is a sin almost as great as dying, (never mention out loud dying) which is the ultimate failure in a society that aims to be failure free.

But is doing nothing such a bad thing. Do we become slobs, couch potatoes, wasters, the moment we leave off filling “each unforgiving minute with sixty – seconds’ worth of distance run”?

I would say no, doing nothing is one of the most important therapies we can give ourselves.

The result of all this frantic headlong rush at life is we have ended up in a pressure cooker world. What guilt people experience if they are not either working to get richer or involving themselves in some “improving” activity.

Forget all those management-speak meets psychobabble mantras like “time is money,” “live in the now,” “efficient time -management is the key to a successful life,” and “we must always position ourselves to take advantage of our opportunity.” If you don’t have a garden where you can watch insects, if you have a demanding career like the one that finally broke my health (leaving me free to sit in the garden doing nothing) you can still make a little empty time to valuably do nothing.

Watching a river, stream or waterfall is great therapy, just watch the water run. Fountains in the town square are just as good. Watching birds is a fine way of doing nothing slowly too. Walking is wonderful so long as you do not say to yourself “I have to get from here to there in two hours.”

I feel sure such competitiveness, the constant impulse to prove something to one’s self or the world is behind the pandemic of every kind of stress related illness currently afflicting the western nations. Make your walk easy paced, say “I’ll be back when I get back,” and plan a route that brings you to the starting point. That way there is no need to arrange for anyone to meet you.

Another great therapy, although it does not quite qualify as doing nothing, is baking bread. Mixes of all types are available from the supermarket now so there is really no problem. It isn’t the weighting out that releases the pressure but the kneading. And then as you wait for the dough to rise you are watching nature happening again. And most important, you are not thinking, not measuring yourself against others, not feeling compelled to try to be number one, or at least progress a few steps up the ladder towards number one. All of which makes it very relaxing.

Whichever way you spend your “do nothing” time the trick is to empty your mind, let all that tension drain out through the soles of your feet.

To go back to that line from Rudyard Kipling’s poem “If”; why should we fill each unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run. Why can’t we just sit back and wave the unforgiving minute goodbye as it races on its way to do something worthwhile before it is consigned to oblivion. Let it go, its just an upstart. The thing about minutes is that as soon as one goes past, another follows right behind it. Put the little attention seekers in their place.

According to legend we have seventy years to get our lives lived, modern science extends that to an average of over eighty and British scientist Aubrey de Vere is sure we are approaching escape velocity, the point at which life expectancy increases faster than we are living. So why all the rush?

While you are so desperate to do something you are losing the skill of simply being.

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