When was the last time you had nothing to do? Was it back when you were still in “short pants,” as they used to say in the old days? As modern adults, we hurtle through our days, rarely stopping to pause and enjoy the moment. There is simply too much to do: jobs, chores, child-rearing, paying bills, catching up on the news.
And the pervasiveness of technology doesn’t help. With a smartphone always at our fingertips, we need never be bored, whether we are in line at the DMV, in the carpool lane at our children’s school, or at the doctor’s office, waiting for an appointment.
Yet I can’t help feeling we are missing something by always being so engaged in activity. The other day, I decided to sit at my kitchen table and do nothing. It was an uncomfortable experience. I fidgeted, and my mind wandered to the many tasks I wanted to complete by the end of the day. Having nothing in my hands also felt strange, and I could almost feel the typewriter keys beneath my fingers, like a phantom limb that itches even though it’s no longer there.
After a while, however, I started to feel a sense of peace and centeredness. I took the time to enjoy the view of nature outside my window. I could hear the faint chirping of birds through the windowpane. I could feel my breath gently coming in and going out. I quieted my thoughts and reached a state I’d call meditative. I spent only a few minutes in this state, but it changed the way I proceeded through the remainder of my day. I felt calmer, less rushed or harried.
In Patrick McDonnell’s wonderful book The Gift of Nothing, Mooch the cat decides to give his friend Earl the dog a special gift. Realizing that Earl has everything he could want, Mooch searches to find the gift of nothing. Although the people in Mooch’s life seem to think there is nothing to do, buy, or watch on TV, Mooch notices that there are always “so many somethings.” When he sits to think, he realizes that he has found nothing. He puts it in a box and gives it to Earl. Earl is puzzled when he discovers nothing in the box. But the story concludes, “So Mooch and Earl just stayed still and enjoyed nothing and everything.”
Our lives are filled with so many somethings. Wouldn’t it be nice every once in a while to find nothing to do?