The Real Idleness

There have been many books and articles written in praise of idleness. (There's always a cheap shot to be had there about the effort needed to write the books and articles.) Normally the enemy is busyness (0r business - either will do), the mindless worship of work for its own sake. Nothing wrong with that really, except it at times seems a bit like running to the other end of some continuum that isn't itself necessary.

Idleness as it's usually spoken about is 'doing nothing'. Or doing nothing much. Lounging about, relaxing, chilling out. Collapsing, completely letting go, taking a break. So we're either thrashing about with effort, or slumped somewhere in a vegetative state (idle). At work or on holidays. You could evoke a Protestant work ethic and reactions against it here, if you wanted to sound important, but the practicalities are a lot more interesting. 

The really pretty amazing thing is, life can be completely effortless, supremely idle. Even the busy bits. Don't take my word for it, try it. No need to relax or do nothing, you can take on as many projects as you like. Here's what I mean.

1. Next time you want to go for a walk, don't try to 'do' the walking. If you're standing outside the back door ready to set off, then don't try to set off. Take in the scenery, the sounds, smells, or whatever, and simply intend to head off. And see if you don't just head off, without doing it. Don't go inside yourself and try and push and pull those legs, stick with what you were looking at or otherwise attending to, and you'll find the legs actually start all by themselves, provided of course you intend to actually move. The intention is all you need.

2. If you're confronted with some existential crisis, or a bad mood, don't try to figure it out or beat yourself up. Don't react in any way, don't try to do a thing. Let it all just be what it is, and see if it doesn't just figure itself out, all by itself. Embrace it in its full reality, and leave it alone, no matter how bad it feels. And watch to see if your own responses and actions don't just unfold automatically from each moment, resolving the crisis without you having to decide a thing, or whether the mood seems to clear all by itself, quickly.

3. If the kids are being a shit, just sit with them. Don't try to discuss anything with them unless they want to discuss something, don't coerce them, persuade them, figure them out. Just sit with them for a while, and see what happens.

4. If you can't sleep, can't breathe properly, have a headache or other aches and pains, ditch that immediate knee-jerk reaction that you have to make these things go away. Leave them there, embrace them fully, welcome them. See what happens.

This is the real idleness. Trusting life to be just what it is, rather than always reacting to it, to make it the way you'd rather it was. Even your basic posture and movement will just do themselves, no effort needed from you at all. See if you can actually pay attention to anything in an ongoing way, AND go inside yourself there and fiddle with bits and pieces, trying to sit up straight or slump and relax. I bet you can't. So normally you'll stop paying attention to what you're doing off and on all the time to go in there and madly twiddle and tweak bits and pieces, and then quickly rush back out to take in a bit more of the view, and then back in, and out, and in...

There's no need to erect some grand opposition between doing things and doing nothing. You never need to do anything, even when you're busy and active. It will all just happen, if you can leave it alone.

But I bet letting go like that is the hardest thing you'll ever try. I bet along the way you'll repeatedly catch yourself 'trying not to do things'. In a million different ways. No big deal, just watch yourself doing that too, like you were watching something on the TV. 

This is my religion, if you like. Reality just is. It's not me and reality, with me dissecting and controlling and tweaking it in some way. It's just reality. Everything just is. Just let go, completely, but let go towards what you're doing, not away from it. And become an effortless part of it all unfolding. 


  1. Nick,
    We have to let awareness be, allow it do its own work. Once we start trying to "do" or achieve awareness we create all sorts of problems for ourselves.


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