Not often have I the pleasure of a do-nothing day, a day when my calendar is completely empty and there is nothing remotely urgent or pressing. An unqualified do-nothing day is one when I can’t imagine doing anything at all. It’s akin to a vacuum, a day which is recognizable for its utter lack of imperative. As an ardent existentialist I find the absence of an agenda slightly unsettling though I balance this knee-jerk paranoia by recalling that too often there is lots going on and nothing happening. Our punishing addiction to activity is at times irresponsible.
Today is one of those atypical days, a do-nothing day. The grocery shopping has been done; no medical or dental appointments; the car doesn’t need to be serviced; I am waiting to hear from the accountant; no bills to pay. Even the weather is cooperating by threatening rain which means I may with impunity postpone the rigid habit of my morning bicycle ride. A do-nothing day is the Sacrament of Heaven allowing one’s soul to fly to the rafters with the exuberance of Champagne bubbles!
When I was an undergraduate student I heard it said by a preposterous bearded chap who fashioned himself a philosopher that doing nothing is the most difficult thing to do. While it is an entertaining proposition, I have not found it to be so. A do-nothing day is for me equivalent to a beach holiday on a remote island, not exactly an imposition. Whenever I have nothing to do, I take the opportunity to savour what I have and to relish my circumstances, something I confess is not a regular incident (not because I am at all ungrateful but because usually other less flavourful things preoccupy me) . I feel no need on a do-nothing day to “fill the vacuum” by reading or gardening or doing anything either productive or constructive, as though it were necessary to expiate the guilt of idleness. Certainly I am traditionally an active person but that Protestant idiosyncrasy is prompted by the need to address some concern or issue; it is not a mania but an appetite. All my life I have subscribed to the belief that in order to get things done, I have to do it. Never have I relied upon the motherly myth that “It’ll happen in good time”. I derive far greater assurance from resolving the muck of a conundrum than in absorbing the corruption of inaction. But I emphasize that the motivation to activity is but an extension of a logical conclusion; namely, if something needs doing, it needs to be done. More often than not, life is full of sometimes tiresome necessity and vexatious duty. It is unimaginable that progress is the product of watching the world go by. But when the instance arises to do just that – to contemplate eternity, to ponder life’s trivialities – it is an undeniable sumptuousness.
A do-nothing day is like an afternoon nap, the supreme expression of lethargy, a sublime combination of torpidity and lack of enthusiasm. For those of us who revel in the rigour of reason, having a do-nothing day is a welcome relief from the killing routine of life. A do-nothing day is the absence of trial and exigency. Ideally a do-nothing day is a void though one distinguished not by its emptiness but by its freedom. There is quite a difference between being inert, caught in a web of apprehension and being clear and unoccupied. A do-nothing day is all the more signal as it is a privilege infrequently afforded. Likewise having the periodic advantage of rising above the mandatory concerns of daily living is not universal. It is a rare intersection of time and condition. If one is fortunate to embrace this spasmodic nexus, one must yield accordingly.
I fear that life is too often weighed down by features of self-imposed complication. Anyone who has had computer problems or car trouble knows what I mean. At the same time I am not about to relinquish the compelling advantages of those nifty products. As Henry David Thoreau (the noted transcendentalist) ominously remarked, “Our life is frittered away by detail… simplify, simplify“. I hasten to add however that Mr. Thoreau was the same man who wrote “Walden; or Life in the Woods” which while ostensibly about simple living in natural surroundings (a “voyage of personal discovery”) was really about living like a hermit on 47¢ a day. That sort of declaration of independence and manual self-reliance is the preserve of very few and certainly not me. Until I decide to release myself from the bonds of modern society and to abandon the cares of the world I will have to content myself with a do-nothing day for temporary refreshment. It is of course no indignity to temper the vacuity of a do-nothing day through the practised and gentlemanly arts of fly-fishing or literary composition for example. A do-nothing day is not an excuse to anaesthetize the proverbial “little grey cells” or impoverish the mind. As with any fortuity no matter how fleeting one must capitalize upon the moment. Even if one prefers to pass a do-nothing day by staring blankly into space, to quote Mr. Thoreau once again, “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”