It’s the stuff of gods and infants—the birthplace of great works of art, philosophy and science. The habit of doing nothing at all is important to our individual and cultural well-being, yet it seems to be dying in our digitized age.
It's far from laziness; proper idleness is the soul’s home base. Don't replace being idle with being unproductive. Think of it as time spent thinking, learning about yourself, and doing so in a way you are at peace with everything in the world. Before we plan, love, decide, act, or storytell, we are idle. Before we learn, we watch. Before we achieve, we dream. Before we play, we imagine. The idle mind is awake but unconstrained, free to slip untethered from idea to idea or meander from potential theory to potential truth. Thomas Aquinas argued that “It is necessary for the perfection of human society that there should be men who devote their lives to contemplation.”
I have found that idleness might be a lost skill. How often do we sit, serenely unoccupied? How often do we walk and free the mind with no agenda or destination, present and free? It has become an uncommon sight to be a solitary individual, with your head not buried in a newspaper or laptop or phone; simply sitting—your mind long wandered off. A mind adrift in a sea of its own making is far more interesting than a mind following a trail of hyperlinks.
Productivity is not the only measure of time well spent. I’m convinced that time spent idle makes for a healthier state of mind. You need time away from social and other influences in order to clearly make decisions on your own. You must find the balance between the two; being completely idle and being extraordinarily accomplishing. You need both in order to let the right influences in your life and make clear, focused choices in life.
Plus, the relationship we have with our beds should be broken less often. Staying in bed with my cat are the kind of days I enjoy so much I'm not really able to describe. It's the smallest and simplest act of spending the day with an animal who only brings you joy and makes you at ease that never makes me want to really do anything else. I make sure I have at least one day out of the week where I stay home in bed, with him purring by my side, and I am left with nothing but my thoughts. I think aloud and contemplate life; the choices I have made in the past, if they have made me a better individual, and the choices I need to make in the future. It's my time to get away from everything else. And it leaves me only with my thoughts. This time spent idle is time I would not want to spend doing anything else.
We want less and are more at peace when we are idle. We sleep better and work harder. Simpler things bring us joy. When we daily observe our immediate surroundings, we are more grounded in our context, more attuned to the rhythms of whatever season or place we are in.
Photograph from Sleepy Jones Journal