The Art of Doing Nothing


A beautiful morning in Singapore

“In this media-drenched, data-rich, channel-surfing, computer-gaming age, we have lost the art of doing nothing, of shutting out the background noise and distractions, of slowing down and simply being alone with our thoughts. Boredom–the word itself hardly existed 150 years ago–is a modern invention. Remove all stimulation, and we fidget, panic and look for something, anything, to do to make use of the time.” (Honoré, Carl. In Praise of Slowness. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2004, p. 11.)

I wrote some about this in my chapter on “Productivity: Unhurried Isn’t Lazy” in An Unhurried Life. I still find this to be a very challenging discipline. And it sounds funny to call doing nothing a discipline, but it really is. Sabbath is a holy kind of doing nothing, at least measured in terms of productivity. There is a way of living some moments more focused on loving relationships, for example, than on getting something done.

Can I sit and look at a painting on my library wall for 15 minutes for no other purpose than to enjoy its beauty? Can I take a leisurely walk around our block without aiming to raise my heart rate for fat burning or aerobic benefit? Can I stroll? Can I have a conversation with one of my sons that has nothing to do with instructing, correcting or managing? The answer to all of these questions is, “Of course!” Will I resist the thoughts the run through my mind that these might be a waste of my time? Will I grow in my ability, at times, to practice the holy art of doing nothing?

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