The Value of Nothing Much

Today is one of those days when nothing much happens. Outside the sky is gray, the fan in the hallway drones, birds land on the roof momentarily and then lift off only to land on a perch a few feet away. It’s not a day to make great plans or accomplish anything. It’s a day to sleep in, draw, read, bake bread, swim, go for a walk–a day to savor sinking down into the humus of being and rest in the arms of living where there are no set schedules, no timelines to meet. It is a day to remember that being human, the gift of being alive is an unmeasurable essence, important beyond the list of what you want to accomplish.

Recently, several friends and acquaintances have had to make emergency trips to the doctor. One person experienced a heart attack and will need to change his profession. Another friend, after her bout in the emergency room told me that she realized that you can do all the right things for your health–eat right, exercise, rest, but in the end you aren’t necessarily in control of  your life. Things can happen. Taking a down day, a sabbath day one day in the week, where you do no work, is a way of purposefully letting go of the world that tells us that we need to have control over all aspects of our lives, and that meaning is found in what we produce and consume, that we must always be “on” and on top of all we do. Purposefully setting time aside where we chose not work is challenging in a world where we are encouraged to be forever task and goal oriented, where we are threatened with the idea that if we don’t keep climbing  we won’t stay up or catch up with the rest of the world. There won’t be enough of whatever it is we want left for us. We won’t be “good enough” any more. To stop working is to begin to live in a different kind of time where time is not money, but a gift. We can begin to see the world around us and become more aware of nature and its gifts, given not through our own efforts or because we deserve it, but freely available to enjoy–a kind of grace to open our eyes to.

We can point to practical reasons to step away from work. For example, recent brain research teaches us that taking time out from a project we are working on allows the creative mind to work at a different level. Aha moments often occur during these times when we’re not intentionally working on a project. Since I’m between creative projects right now, some serious downtime could help me think of how to start my next project. Rest also helps the brain to restore itself.  Scientific American’s article, “New Hypothesis Explains Why We Sleep” suggests that when we sleep, the synapses in our brains weaken, possibly so that they won’t become “oversaturated with daily experience and from consuming too much energy.” This, scientists believe, helps to aid memory.  Rest strengthens us! More important than downtime being useful for the creative mind and memory, however, is the fact that we need rest so we can reconnect with our bodies and remember the importance of being.

As pointed out in this interesting video on materialism from the Center for a New American Dream, our culture has an imbalance in looking to materialism and consumerism as a way of trying to meet what are essentially emotional needs. A more satisfying way of living might be to take time to build community and meet with friends–to build deeper connections through conversation so that we know in our hearts that we truly matter to others. Consumerism and materialism breeds a sense of lack. Time with friends breeds a sense of community and belonging, allowing us to feel more content.  We can also take quiet time for ourselves that enables us to restore our inner selves so we have a self who can continue to give ourselves to others and to our work with an open heart.

If taking time out of the week for rest and restoration calls out to you, know you’re not alone. The Sabbath Manifesto, is a group that encourages others to unplug and get out and enjoy life by getting outside, meeting with others to eat, light a candle, and find ways to give back. The Abbey of the Arts, is an online community directed by Christine Valters Paintner, whose aim is” to nurture contemplative values, compassion and creativity in every day life.” One of those values is to “commit to finding moments each day for silence and solitude, to make space for another voice to be heard, and to resist a culture of noise and constant stimulation.”  When you think about it, it’s a radical thing to do.  Learning to let go and to regularly step inside the place of being can be one of the great life gifts you give yourself.  It is a rare and wonderful gift indeed. Savor it.