24. The Art of Doing Nothing
There is an art shop up at Tiptree that doesn’t look very big at the front, but when you go in, it seems to keep on going back and back and back. What is incredible about this place is that it seems you can buy virtually anything ‘creative’ there. The ways of filling your life creatively seem endless. I used to think I was quite creative once but now whenever I go into this shop with ‘management’ who wants to look for wool for knitting, I find it exhausting even looking at all the books and materials, because to make yourself creative means expending time and effort and I rarely seem to have much spare of either.
In fact this afternoon something happened that made me wonder if I was in the process of suffering a nervous breakdown. I am normally an energy and ideas person and if I’m not actually doing something, I am reading with a purpose (even if it is to read the magazines I subscribe to, or the books that seemed so enticing on the shelves of Waterstone’s). Yes, somehow, and for reasons beyond my initial understanding at least, I looked back on a couple of hours when I had done nothing. Well I sat in a chair and gazed at the sky for a few minutes, I wandered round the garden with no motive other than seeing what was there, I picked up a Sunday magazine that I had mistakenly bought, and scanned odd pages, again with no set purpose. My mind meandered meaninglessly. Time was being squandered!
I did not clean out the fish tank, get rid of weeds in the garden before Winter arrives, clean up my office in preparation for the coming week, go on my computer to search, scan, or see what’s on TV, and I certainly didn’t turn on the TV. And I didn’t sit, plan, scheme, strategise, prepare or plot anything. Time passed without effort or achievement. I like the ‘without effort’ bit, but normally I am an achievement person – time needs redeeming, making use of, used to get something done. My mind is usually active, working on ideas, but this afternoon, nothing. Time passed by and no major decisions had been made, no stories written, no articles mapped out; time just passed by. I don’t know who it was who said, “Sometimes I sits and thinks and sometimes I just sits,” but this afternoon was a time when “I just sits”!
There are people who talk about having particular crisis moments in life which changed them forever. My favourite was the old guru in Rudyard Kipling’s Kim who went looking for the Hindu experience that would authenticate him and found it when he stumbled into a ditch full of water, I think it was. I don’t think this afternoon was quite the sort of authenticating event that Jean Paul Satre might have spoken of, but it has left me wondering if I ought to go looking for a self-help book on “The Art of Doing Nothing”. Well, perhaps not!
I don’t think I’m a driven person, but I do like achieving things. It doesn’t have to be big things like climbing Mount Everest or learning to speak Mandarin fluently, or changing the face of politics. I think I wrote recently about my capacity to enjoy things in life, and often it is the small things, like putting these thoughts into print. I don’t like trying to achieve things that I know are impossible for me. At my time of life I know it’s too late to start trying to run marathons. I don’t want to study to fully understand quantum physics because I’m not convinced that even those who say they do, do. I’m not quite sure about taking up art because as I watch those who draw or paint, I realise that those who are good, are good because they’ve been at it a long time – and I can’t face the many days before I arrive there!
So I need some motivation to work on the art of doing nothing. Well, somebody said, “A desire presupposes the possibility of action to achieve it; action presupposes a goal which is worth achieving.” I guess I have a long list of things that I think don’t have goals that are worth achieving. That should counter some activity. I’m told that cricketer Shane Warne said, “All my coaches tell me that I have been under achieving.” Yes, I identify with that. Thinking of creating an end result that is clearly not up to my expectations, yes that might put me off doing something.
Are we getting nearer to this elusive art? Someone else said, “Crystallize your goals. Make a plan for achieving them and set yourself a deadline. Then, with supreme confidence, determination and disregard for obstacles and other people's criticisms, carry out your plan.” That’s it, done it! That sound like such hard work that it sounds too exhausting to even start.
I think we’re almost there. Need just one more quote to reduce me to inactivity. Ah, here it is: “I think life is sort of like a competition, whether it's in sports, or it's achieving in school, or it's achieving good relationships with people. And competition is a little bit of what it's all about.” There it is, the perfect base for my new Sunday afternoon philosophy for inactivity.
It’s simple, surely you’ve seen it? What do most people do? Play and compete, or watch others playing and competing. That’s it, most people fall into the latter group, so if life’s a big competition, then obviously the most common reaction to it is to become a spectator. There we are; I’m ready to do nothing.
Except I’ve got all those things that need doing, tasks started but not completed, books with book marks in only a third of the way through. All right, I surrender. This afternoon was an accident, a hole in the time-space continuum. It did happen; I was there, I witnessed it, but I’m not sure it will happen again. Excuse me, there’s something I’ve just remembered I’ve got to go and do.
Quote: “I never worry about action, but only about inaction”
(Source: Winston Churchill)
Quote: “Throughout history, it has been the inaction of those who could have acted; the indifference of those who should have known better; the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most; that has made it possible for evil to triumph.”