10 Ways to Enjoy Downtime, and the Art of Doing Nothing
By Joan Whetzel
Remember those long summers as a kid when there was nothing to do but lie around and do nothing? Back in the 50's and 60's, parents didn't try to keep boredom at bay by planning every second of a kid's time. They simply banished us kids to the outdoors to create our own boredom busters. Somehow, left to our own devices, we always found ways to entertain ourselves. The sheer adventure potential revealed by having nothing to do was the most delicious part of summer. So why do we find it so hard to do nothing these days, and even harder to enjoy having nothing to do? And exactly when did doing nothing become the forbidden fruit?
Doing Nothing in the Good Old Days
The American lifestyle over the last 5 or 6 decades has evolved into one that seeks to fill every second of available time, in order to avoid boredom at all costs. Or more likely, it's an effort to be productive at all costs. In fact, it has gotten to the point where it is flagrantly and decadently sinful to be unproductive during ones waking hours. It is impossible to linger a few extra minutes in bed, spend more than ten minutes at the lunch table, or make public appearances with anything smaller than a 6-inch thick time tracker, a smart phone filled with appointments, or a 10-mile long to-do list in tow - without the inevitable "you're not busy" guilt trip setting in.
The Impossibility of Doing Nothing Today
Add to that the 24/7 nature of today's media, which has convinced Americans within spitting distance of a TV, radio, computer, or newspaper to keep up with up-to-the-second news on everything there is to know and do. Otherwise, we we're left feeling like we missed something or that the competition is passing us by. So, we schedule our life away, for appearances sake, keeping busy doing things none of us really wants to do. The guilt, the fear, and the embarrassment of not being super-men and super-women, leads most Americans to seek out anything that will fill up their free time. The favorite activities used to fill up this free time include: 1. Technology: MP3 players, DVD's, laptops, computers, smart phones, electronic games; 2.Comptitive games and sports: soccer, tennis, baseball, softball, bicycle racing; and 3.Overdosing on communication: e-mail, palm pilots, cell phones, pagers.
Time for a Change
It really makes the laid-back days of our childhood seem like heaven, doesn't it? Maybe it is time to quit frittering our time with meaningless and unproductive chores and jobs and all of that technological and competitive stuff, and get back to plain, old, lazy-Jane simplicity. Take one day off a week, with nothing planned, and just be. One day of downtime a week, left to one's own devices, leaves us with time to think, imagine, and catch up with ourselves. Giving ourselves permission to do nothing provides the opportunity to put meaning back into our lives, and frees up our unconscious to yield all manner of creative – and frequently fully formed - ideas.
Ways to Enjoy Having Nothing to Do
So how does one practice creative nothingness without boredom running rampant and insisting we do something "constructive?"
- Send the Kids Out in the Yard to Play. Yeah, yeah, yeah. They will probably whine and complain, "But there's nothing to do!" Remember your mom's admonition. "Well, go find something!" she would say, as she pointed at the door. We always did, and so will they. It may just be something like laying back and finding shapes in the clouds, watching butter flies, hiking or bike riding, or finding some trees to climb.
- Take the Summer Off. That's right. Stop scheduling play dates, and lessons, and meetings, and … The kids will appreciate the downtime as much as you do. Besides, you will save money since you won't be paying for all those activities, and wasting gas running all over town to get to those activities. In this economy, that is a plus. The kids get free time away from the adults in their lives. The adults get free time without the constant demands for entertainment. Everyone gets time to do something he or she wants to do – just for the fun of it. Then after your odyssey of nonsense is exhausted …
- Spend a Languorous Saturday Afternoon Picnicking in the Park. That is it, just picnicking. No thoughts of chores, work, problems with kids, the economy, or world peace allowed. Then, if you can stand the excitement, search out the nearest spot of shade, pull up a tree, and settle in for hearty and vivacious game of cloud watching. Or park near a pond and share your picnic with some ducks.
- Quit feeling the Need to Account for Every Second of You Time. Take off your watch and hide your calendar. Then spend a little time every day, daydreaming. Who is going to bust you, the Schedule Police?
- Ignore the Nothing Critics. Their mantra is "Don't just sit there, do something." Adopt the opposite mantra: "Don't just do something, sit there."
- Un-clutter Your Brain. Let your mind ramble. Enjoy a few mindless repetitive tasks that require no thinking skills whatsoever, like: building a model, crocheting or knitting, painting, drawing, playing music, swimming, bike riding - whatever feels right. Don't think, dream, or imagine anything on purpose. If something "constructive" pops into your mind, write it down, and go back to being unconstructive – quickly.
- Knock, Knock, Knock. It is the great outdoors calling. So what are you waiting for? Take a walk, find a swing set, go swimming, or hop on your bicycle. Their only two requirements: (1) leaving the cell phone and pager at home and (2) have fun.
- Sit on the Porch. Watch the world go by while chomping into a sweet, ice-cold slice of watermelon; letting the juice trickle down your chin, and run down your arms to drip off the ends of your elbows.
- Enjoy Blessed Solitude. Spend time alone. How is anybody ever going to get to know you if you do not take time to get to know yourself? The sheer silence of not having to listen to everyone else's voices constantly slamming against your eardrums and banging around inside your head is such major relief to the senses and sensibilities. The silence isn't just golden, it's glorious.
- Take a nap. N-A-P is not a dirty word. In fact, are really refreshing, especially if you let the nap decide when it's time instead of penciling it into your calendar. Doesn't a nap sound delicious right about now? Can't you just feel the yawns coming on and the zzz's taking over?
Schedule some time to do nothing into your week right now. You know you want it. Go ahead! You have permission!