The Case For Being Idle

It’s the weekend. Better still, it’s Sunday. For many a quiet day, and a lazy day: a day for a lie-in after a late night, or a bike ride for those who took it easy on Saturday night, taking kids to football, cooking a slow roast, falling asleep over the newspapers, staring at rainbows. For a few, there might be church. It is, perhaps, the only day of the week that we feel we don’t have to justify not doing very much. I was dancing last night until 2am so, for today, I definitely fall into that category of: ‘not doing very much’.

C. does so much: mothering, two jobs, runs a home, social life, tennis. I ask her how she manages it all. “De-scoping is the trick”, she tells me. “I write a list of everything I have to do, then I look down the list and ask myself: what on this list is an unnecessary add-on? Then I strike through those items and let myself off the hook! Whoosh.” She makes a noise as she draws a line through an imaginary task in the air with the flourish of an orchestra conductor. “I get it,” I say to her, “so you strike off things like ironing?” She bursts out laughing. “Ironing! It doesn’t even make it onto my list in the first place!”

Then there’s T. She is so busy she doesn’t have time to read my blog! “Have you read it yet?” My high-maintenance, ego-frenzied self asks her. “I don’t have time. If only you knew what I have to get through in a day. I don’t have time to pee.” I whine down the phone at her. “It will take you all of four minutes. Read it! I’m insecure. I need feedback. And you need to slow down – you’ll burst your boiler.”Ok, I will.” I immediately know she is lying because she sounds like I’ve asked her to go outside in the dark and scoop up dog shit. “So the day I write about you, you have to call me up and tell me.” “How will I know it’s me? You don’t put names in it.” She thinks she has found a loophole. “You’ll know!” I say ominously.

Is there anything worse than being told by someone who doesn’t have a lot on that you need to slow down and let up? No, I don’t think so either. Most of us have days that are over-filled, though, and – maybe with the exception of Sundays – we’ve all got used to making ourselves too busy.

Thomas Merton was an American theologian and mystic. A Trappist Monk who specialised in interfaith understanding, he spent A LOT of time thinking and writing and praying and not much else. Just the sort of man you probably don’t want to take advice from on how to slow down. Nonetheless, he had some interesting things to say about it.

There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.” (Thomas Merton)

Dancing until 2am may not have been the path Thomas Merton took to a day of peacefully doing nothing. But today I am neutralizing the frenzy of the week and I shall not be overworking. Do join me.

4 thoughts on “The Case For Being Idle

  1. Sunday, my lie-in day. Just had breakfast in bed and am listening to the sounds of the house being trashed by the tiny terrors. Life is good.


  2. Feedback: your blog is now part of my not too busy, daily schedule. First thing on the morning or last thing on the evening usually! Your words, your stories have made me smile, laugh, cry, think, contemplate. Thank you and continue to make me FEEL!


  3. Wow – this totally relates to what we were talking about today. I am certainly in the habit of being busy and i can feel the aggressiveness of it. I will make it a priority to de-clutter my life and enjoy more moments of calm x


    1. I love the idea of de-scoping! I just checked my to do list and whether the items on it *need* to be done. My list has been cut by a third! A solid lesson in how much pressure we can put on ourselves.


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