doing nothing is good for the soul

Even geeks need to unplug and relax a bit. Security geeks probably more so (although I may be a bit biased there) with our constant battle to maintain acceptable security and the constant threat of our phones, PDAs, and Blackberries chirping for our attention. I read an article by Tom Hodgkinson titled “10 ways to enjoy doing nothing” (CNN) yesterday and wanted to echo a few points.

As a background, I have leanings towards zen buddhism and meditation. Not necessarily your traditional lotus position meditation, but just the ability to find peace and reflection where you are; and just mentally and spiritually relax. I’ll add a few other points below from my own experiences.

1. Banish the guilt. We are all told that we should be terribly busy, so we can’t laze around without that nagging feeling that we need to be getting stuff done….Guilt for doing nothing is artificially imposed on us by a Calvinistic and Puritanical culture that wants us to work hard. That’s true, right? Me, I tend to laze around and play video games. While that is still technically *doing* something, it usually is not something that directly adds to my life, ya know? The point is, don’t be guilty about doing things that don’t matter or doing nothing at all. Find a hobby, play a guitar, tinker with something, but never let it make you feel anxious or time-constrained or stressed when you do it. Just do it and flow with it like a babbling stream rather than a raging wave.

7. Lie in a field. Doing nothing is profoundly healing… Listen to the birds and smell the grass. Ever do this as a kid? I did. It’s beautifully calming and amazing. Ever do this as an adult? Me either, not nearly enough!

8. Gaze at the clouds. Don’t have a field nearby? Doing nothing can easily be dignified by calling it “cloud spotting.” It gives a purpose to your dawdling. Go outside and look up at the ever-changing skies and spot the cirrus and the cumulonimbus. You can even do this as you sit at Starbucks on the outside chairs if they have them. Or on the steps of your nearby library. Gazing up at the sky no matter what the weather is an amazing, heart-warming, thing that helps put so many things about life and our place and our thoughts into perspective.

And my own additions…

11. Gaze at the stars/sit out in the rain/sit out while it snows. I have an immense appreciation for nature; nothing in the world is or ever will be as perfect as a whole, even with its individual imperfections. Stargazing, sitting out in and watching/feeling/smelling/hearing the rain or snow are the kinds of things that make you know you’re alive; your senses assuring you of existence. You can even do this in your regular residential neighborhood (although seeing the stars might be a bit difficult without a good dark park or something) as long as the rest of the world is not too busy. Preferably without distractions, but I wouldn’t judge someone less if they mixed in some mood music as well (“new age” music or even minimalistic electronica adds to these moments).

12. Exercise. Many people bemoan exercise as boring or painful or just a waste of time. If you’re going to be doing something whether cardio or weights, you really should enjoy doing it; it’s good for the soul to be happy with the things you do. So rather than focus on the pain, focus on the good things. Focus on your breathing, not just the rate, but *how* you breathe (chest vs stomach; mouth vs nose…). Focus on the movements of your body, the contracting and relaxing of the muscles that move our limbs. Focus on the rhythmic beat of your heart. Focus on your posture and form. Focus on those points where you do feel real pain and be aware of your limits. If you need to, include music that you can focus on as well; minimal words, heavy on beat and instrumentation/sound, and longer than 3 minute sound-bytes-go for real trance/techno).