Doing Nothing, Nothing Doing

Some days, I struggle with the idea of doing nothing. Here we are, one week of summer “vacation” left and I’m just now settling into the idea that sometimes, it’s ok to do nothing.

I walked around the yard a few times today. I’m listening to an audiobook (another Stephen King, no less), so I plugged in my ear pods and made a few loops, which by all reckoning, I think is a behavior that is encouraged. I was getting steps, clearing out the cobwebs. But each time, I had to justify myself: that I was cleaning up after the dogs or pulling in the trash cans or battling mosquitos (which is mostly what I’m doing when I step outside lately). I feel compelled to pile on what I’m doing, how I’m being productive.

Perhaps I feel this pressure extra because we homeschool the kids. I feel like I have to constantly be offering them something to do or sitting down to do something with them. Not that this is something that I do, but just that I feel the urge and the commensurate guilt. And it doesn’t really matter how many times they come up with something to do — art or a book or even pulling out an old science project — on their own, without any prompting. I suspect I’ll always feel like I should be filling up their time. Or perhaps not. Perhaps I’m getting a bit better about it.

Even now, I’m trying to figure out how I can come around to how important “doing nothing” is because it’s actually rest, and rest is just as important as non-rest. But even here, I keep getting back to: rest is non-productivity, which is important because it …. makes us more productive.

I often feel I have little worth outside of productivity.

But I don’t want to pass this idea, this feeling on to my kids. So I get up and I walk around my yard and I usually have the compulsion to tell them “I’m going outside to brush the dogs,” or whatever else it is I’m going to do. And sometimes I resist the temptation to justify it to them, to explain what I’m doing, to show them that I am always, always productive, that I am always doing something. And sometimes I can’t resist. But I’m trying.

And some of the time, I know that they are modeling this for me. I’ll come across one of them just sitting, sometimes their bodies twisted into odd positions, staring off in to space. “What are you doing?” I’ve sometimes asked. One might reply, “Just daydreaming.” And sometimes, she’ll snap at me for disrupting her daydreams, for making her lose her concentration and justify and explain herself. And I reckon she’s right because daydreams are important and I should try to be more like her, valuing the daydreams and the wandering mind.

The younger one, the 8 year old, sometimes when I’ve asked her what she’s doing, she’ll just saying, “Nothing.” And I marvel.

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