Monday, 7 July 2014

Doing nothing

"What are you going to do today?" Ian asks.

"Nuffin" I reply.  "Except something will probably sneak in and derail it."

Ian goes out to look at the brakes of the Subaru and I sit in bed with my cup of tea, musing.  We rarely do nothing.  I was joking.  At the best of times our lives are full of lists and jobs.  Living with two acres of garden and a house and a holiday cottage to run there are always things waiting to be done, both inside and outside.  Just now with my father and my father in law both struggling with their health, life is dominated by visiting, and by the driving up and down the country that is necessary to make some of that visiting possible so the garden lies neglected while we keep our heads above water.  Last week we also made a flying visit to Oxford to older daughter and her family who are moving to Wales, providing a bit of help with childcare (me) and taking down shelves and moving things from the allotment (Ian).  There is the cottage changeover, other adult children and grandchildren to see and to support and tiny bits of gardening to do so that the whole garden does not completely disappear under a welter of nettles and bindweed.  I have so much to do all the time that I run blindly from one thing to another, starting things without finishing them, or I find I cannot bring myself to engage with things because I know I have not got time to do them properly.

So doing "nuffin" was not a serious suggestion for a moment.  But I sit there musing about the idea of nothing and suddenly I wonder if it can be done.  I come downstairs, deliberately putting aside the list of "what next" in my head and make scrambled eggs for breakfast.  I read a bit of the weekend paper while I eat my eggs.  Going back upstairs to get dressed I resist the urge to throw my gardening clothes on and get out of the bedroom in less than a minute.  I shower (yes, of course I shower normally but I shower in less time than it takes most people to turn the shower on) and shave my legs and stay in long enough (all of five minutes) for the mirror to steam up.

Out of the shower I decide to put my yoga clothes on.  In the last few months I have committed silently to getting back to yoga.  Physically I feel better for making demands on my body that it stretch and move.  Mentally a session calms me and lifts me and puts me in touch with myself.  Sometimes yoga opens me up in a way that is almost painful.  I stopped for a while after  my mother died because it made me cry unexpectedly and publicly.  Sometimes I do not go when a part of me knows that I most need to because it is easier and less challenging to sit in the chair and watch the TV and potter about the internet.  In fact the more I need to go the less likely I am to make it happen.  But I have recognised that and have been trying in the last two or three months to turn up, week after week, whether I feel like it or not.

We still have not sorted out the room that was my father in law's.  His bed has gone to someone else who will use it.  Many of his things have gone with him and even more remain.  This is not a big house.  We know that it would be a good thing to find a use for the room that works for us and in theory we have agreed:  a crafts room, a sewing room, a music room.  But this kind of change takes time and energy and both are squeezed just now.  But without doing anything which takes time or organisation or the blurry edged decision making which resonates emotionally and uncomfortably and feels too soon, too harsh, here is a space, with a red rug, open and empty, without much furniture and with light coming in through the deeply recessed window.  We don't have a lot of space here inside.  Here is a space where you can lie and  stretch without bumping into furniture.  When you sit back on your heels and then stretch forward, hands on the ground, folding yourself in two, the only thing which prevents your movement is your own stiffness, not bumping into an armchair or a sofa.

So I sit cross legged and move and stretch and try and inevitably fail to touch my toes.  I am not flexible.  My ham strings are as tight as a bow.  But the trying and the sitting and the focussing on my body and how it works slows me right down and shuts out for a brief moment the incessant chatter of what needs to be done.

Afterwards I change my yoga pants for my jeans and make a cup of tea.  I wash up and put clothes away and take Ian a cup of coffee as he finishes mending the car brakes.  Weirdly, perhaps as a result of deciding to do nothing, I feel focussed and energetic. I sort out clothes and toiletries of my own and bits of detritus in my father in law's room: tissues and old newspapers which somehow I have not noticed before as if I had not been allowing myself to look.  I read for a few minutes, only a few pages but I never read in the day and it feels oddly like being on holiday.  Then I make some pastry, put it in the fridge to chill and go out into the garden to pick gooseberries.

And by the end of the day have I done nothing?  Of course not.  Perhaps the day started more slowly but it picked up speed and between us Ian and I have picked and topped and tailed six kilos of gooseberries and have the scratched and battered hands to prove it.  We have visited his father and collected a bed to be delivered to older daughter from younger daughter.  I have made a quiche and a gooseberry tart and done all the small domestic things that you need to do to make the day go.  But somehow that quieter start, that stepping back and looking at the idea, however askance, of "nuffin" has slowed me down and stilled the incessant rumbling demands of what has to be done. It has made things go quiet for a brief time.   Maybe I will try it again.

30 comments:

  1. Like you, with a campsite, five acres, 3 poly tunnels, things to pick and pack there is no chance to do nothing, but sometimes it's lovely just to sit out in the sun and enjoy half an hour of quiet before getting back to the lists

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    1. I had got quite good at that when it was just the two of us but it has got totally lost these last few months. you are right. Even half an hour makes a difference.

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  2. Sometimes planning to do nothing means that actually more gets done than usual but in a far better frame of mind. It sounds like doing nothing for you accomplished rather a lot.

    I love pottering days on our little piece of Welsh hillside too.

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    1. I think that must have been what happened. Just the act of taking my foot of the accelerator and stepping back for a minute seemed to make me more, not less, active in the end.

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  3. Sounds as if a bit of nuffin worked for you. I am retired and don't have all the committments that you do and yet I don't do nuffin but neither do I actually do anything which leaves me with a feeling of failure some days. I must take a leaf out of your book and set aside time to do a bit of yoga (I gave up going to the weekly class almost a year ago as I found it too hard for me at the time) on my own and to schedule in some pottering and maybe then I would find I am getting done some of the things I want to do after all and not wasting time. Watch this space!

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    1. I think it is quite a hard thing to get right. Too much to do and too little to do oddly have the same effect on me in some ways in that I end up doing less and less, either because I am overwhelmed or because I can't find the motivation to get going. It is definitely too much at the moment but I have been floored in the past by not enough!

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  4. I think a day of doing nothing every so often is a big help in realizing that it is important to do just that. The trouble is we don't seem to have the luxury of doing that very often. Having said that having got to a reasonably advanced age I now do nothing more often, not so much because I want to but I have To!

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    1. I appreciate that I am lucky that my health means that I can and also lucky to have the family ties and responsibilities and demands which are a huge part of what makes me who I am. Hope you can enjoy the doing not so much and take pleasure in it!

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  5. I feel a strong connection with this post. My mother's been staying with us (we drove to collect her then drove her home a week later), it's publication day for me and I'm sitting in the OU Hub, while Tom presents an academic paper... everyday feels as if someone fired a starting pistol, Ma's comment was 'I thought you moved to the countryside to relax! Well, we didn't actually; we moved to realise some long-held ambitions, and they took off! But sometimes I think a day of doing absolutely nothing might be just what I need. Thank you for your thought-provoking post.

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    1. I absolutely get the idea that every day feels as if someone fired a starting pistol. Yes, here too. It doesn't have to be a day of doing nothing, try giving yourself a morning and see what happens!

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  6. This is EXACTLY what I needed to read today. Thank you!

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    1. Ah, you too Marcheline! I think perhaps we are all doing so much these days that any additional burden or crisis just tips us into chaos!

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  7. Doing 'nuffin' occasionally is essential - if only we could crack not feeling guilty about it.

    I'd like to try yoga but wonder if joining a weekly class would be yet another commitment which I might come to resent as yet another call on my time.

    Back to the garden now - at least this dry spell has slowed some things down. But not, I notice the bl**dy bindweed.

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    1. Try what I was doing yesterday when I wrote this and see if you can do nothing, almost as an intellectual exercise. Think that helped with the business of feeling guilty which I would otherwise certainly have succumbed to.

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  8. Did you write this for me, Elizabeth? Running blindly from one thing to another seems to be the norm here too. As I write this, stealing a few minutes (which I haven't done for weeks now, so reading blogs is a huge treat!) it is just before 0700 and the boys have been up for nearly an hour. The laundry that I did last night has been put out to dry and the next load has the washer chugging away. The dishwasher has been unloaded, boys' books for Reading Buddies found and stacked, clothes set out and breakfast set. Now I need to put some speed on and go to work. Sometimes at night I find it hard to flip the 'off' switch. There are days that make me feels as though I've put on a yoke on rising. Does Yoga really help?

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    1. I think yoga does really help but my experience is that when I was working at a crazy pace I could not slow down enough to really do it properly. It sounds as if right now it would just be another thing to fit in! Maybe give it a go when the grandsons have gone home?

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  9. I loved this post Elizabeth & have taken away the thought odf it to use for myslef. Thank you.

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  10. What a super post - I like the idea that we're never more busy than doing nuffin. And it sort of prepares us for what's ahead. I have days in which I plan very little but end up manicly ticking the last of what turned out to be a very long mental list - they are what what Jane calls my 'job head' days

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    1. I definitely have job head days Mark! Really recognise that one.

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  11. A slow start sounds a great idea. I must have missed an earlier post about your father-in-law as I had not realised he was no longer living with you.

    All the same what you managed to achieve after your slow start sounds amazing.

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  12. Elizabeth, I join the earlier commenters in praising this post.

    This week I am beginning a new work-related routine, as I cut back to a three-day paid workweek. I have been planning for this since last year, and hope that it will present me with a graceful balance between supply and demand on my waking hours.

    I'm sure to be writing my own posts eventually about this evolution. I was very taken with your description about sort of circling around making large decisions. I'm hoping that this extra "open" day is going to provide me with some time to contemplate some decisions that have not been dealt with. Active contemplation may actually result in physical action!

    xo

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  13. I am so not good at doing nothing. At least, I can do it, but then I spend so much time rationalising why it's okay, even necessary, for me to take the break from activity, that it's almost more trouble than it's worth. That said, I've been trying to take a few moments here and there, just to sit in the sunshine in the early morning, or in the shade, late afternoon, and store up some tranquility. May you refill your bank of the stuff as well . . . thanks for a very relevant and inspiring post.

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  14. You make "nuffin" look like a day in the coalmines. Wow!

    XO
    WWW

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  15. Sounds like a close to perfect day, and how lovely to be able to use your fil's room for yoga, very positive and doesn't require negotiating the feelings sure to be stirred up by "sorting the room properly". One of the few upsides to having lived with ME all these years as that I have learnt how to do your version of nuffin, and its amazing how much you can get done. Mind you, I noticed bindweed flowering in various hard to get at but very noticeable corners today, it is making my shoulders rise just writing about it!

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  16. I adore your idea of a day of doing nuffin. You would think now that I am retired I could do that. Well, it is possible and sounds delightful. I exercise in a pool three times a week, very good for body and soul. Plus church with the praise band raising the roof. That is good you found some quiet moments and a space for yoga. Maybe we could both do a bit of nuffin one day a week :)

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  17. I think doing nothing or trying to is very good for the mind, it’s an extension of meditation in a way. I was away from my blog for two months with a myriad of things to do, but a couple of days I did nothing – which is I just went in a comfy arm chair and read two books – so relaxing to finish the books without worrying about what I need to do next. Of course now it’s back to rushing with elder daughter moving back to Atlanta, helping her find a town home, taking care of her cats, etc. I enjoyed your post and hope you will keep doing those farniente days again.

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  18. Oh for a day of doing absolutely "nuffin". I work full-time and even at the weekends there is so much to do - cooking, cleaning, gardening, visiting relatives, having people round. One day I will get my meals ready the night before, push the dearly beloved out the door to work, lock the door and spend the day doing "nuffin" apart from reading, listening to the radio and watching TV. I'll let the DB back in at midnight! Bliss.

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