Friday, September 11, 2009

The Immense Value of Doing (Almost) Nothing

Last week was a week off for our apprentices (and sort of for staff, too). It came at the conclusion of Contending, the fourth learning posture of our year. Contending is usually pretty intense and for some reason both it and the posture before it seemed to go on forever. Just in August: our community said goodbye to the Stewart family, transitioned into some new leadership roles as a staff team, hosted a 2-week Road Trip, explored issues of spiritual warfare and injustice, and engaged a month-long practice of the discipline of Simplicity. The week off was very timely for me, and I suspect for most of our community as well.

I've never been much of one for taking vacations where I do nothing. I generally want to go somewhere that I can "see stuff." Whether it's art galleries in Paris, Napoleon’s villa on Elba, beautiful scenery in Cape Town, or Addo Elephant Park near Port Elizabeth, I usually want to do stuff and see things, to experience whatever new place I'm in to the fullest... more than just hang out. But last week I knew that was the last thing I needed.

Instead of going somewhere to do something, I went to a small bush camp in a game reserve about 45 minutes away, with my sole goal being that of sitting by a pool and reading. I accomplished that goal. Swimmingly, one might say.

My three days away followed this general schedule:
Sleep in.
Sit on the veranda and eat breakfast while watching birds.
Change from pajamas to bathing suit.
Walk across the dirt road to the very small pool.
Apply sunscreen.
Lie on beach towel next to pool and read.
Get in pool.
Lie on beach towel next to pool and dry off in the sun.
Read some more.
Walk back across the road to the chalet.
Sit on veranda and eat lunch.
Sit by the pool and read.
Wander trails around the bush camp, looking at animals.
Sit on the veranda and eat dinner while watching the sunset.
Lie on bed and read.
Listen to music.
Go to sleep.

One of the things I realized during this brief time away:
I spend too much time multi-tasking. Multi-tasking may feel productive, but it also makes me feel rushed and scattered. This creeps in even with a small thing I do all the time: listening to music and reading while making dinner. When doing three things at once, I'm not really experiencing any one of them fully. Perhaps none of those things require my full attention, but they definitely feel different when given my full attention. For the most part, I refrained from this kind of simultaneous activity while on my retreat, and I found my mind more present in each activity. I was able to more fully experience whatever I was doing—and find rest in it. I was also better able to think. Amazingly. =)

I now realize the great value of a vacation where you do nothing. I came back from these brief few days feeling far more rested than I have in a long time. We began the Imagining posture on Monday, and I have been thoroughly enjoying the week. Never mind the fact that this is my favorite posture of the apprenticeship... I think much of my energy and excitement and readiness to be fully present this past week is in part due to three days of doing nothing. I highly recommend it.

No comments: