Sunday, May 4, 2014

The Discipline of Doing Nothing

"Sunday Morning"
-a day of rest-

In this morning's Los Angeles Times, a mom writes about a conversation she had the other day with her  fifth grade son:

"When we leaving?" the kid asks. 
"In 20 minutes," I say. 
"Do I have time not to get ready?"
That's the conversation I had with my fifth-grader, the implication being that he's constantly getting ready for the next activity and he wanted a little time to not get ready, to not do anything, flop on the couch awhile and play with his elbow.

This article really struck a chord with me. 

A parish I once served as a priest had a large elementary school attached to it- with the smartest and most talented children I have ever met, also the busiest. I would get tired just watching these kids and hearing about their daily schedules.  

From the moment school ended and throughout the weekend these kids were always busy doing something - a time for homework, a time for soccer practice, baseball games, swimming and piano lessons, play practice, meetings with various kinds of tutors to "beef up" on math and science.  Once in a while some play-time even got squeezed into the busy schedule.

The reason for such constant and even frenetic activity? Not just to keep these kids out of trouble, but to prepare them for their futures - get them prepped for high school and college, make them ready to enter into successful careers in a competitive world. 

So, I really "get it" when a fifth grader asks his mom if maybe he might have a little time to "not get ready."

Of course I don't think you need to be a fifth grader to find yourself consumed by constant busy activity. Lots of people in the everyday world of today's culture feel like they always need to be doing something. If they aren't "doing something," they are wasting valuable time.

School. work, meetings, shopping, emails and web browsing, doing household chores-  a constant buzz of activity, always "doing something." 

When I was younger,  I was always one of those persons who constantly had to be doing something. Even family vacations were a flurry of activity - always going somewhere, visiting something or other, getting in as much as we could. By the time the vacation would end, I was usually pretty tired out.  I needed a vacation from the vacation.

When I was a young boy, Sunday was a day of rest in my family and in my neighborhood. After church, we would just kind of hang out and do nothing - maybe a leisurely breakfast, a newspaper, a nap, playing with my neighborhood friends, a Sunday supper.  There were no malls, and even if there were, all the stores were closed on Sunday so you couldn't go shopping even if you wanted to. 

The world has changed significantly since then. Nowadays, lots of people work on Sundays and weekends. The malls are packed. Sunday is a day for catching up on chores, answering emails, doing work on the computer, getting ready for work the next day- always doing something. 

It's no wonder that so many people feel stressed out and frazzled. I think we would do well to reclaim some sabbath time again.

When he wrote a "rule of life" for his monks, Saint Benedict insisted that there be an intentional period for "doing nothing" built into the monks' daily schedule - no work , no prayers, so study, no mediation- just a time for doing nothing.  Monks in the Benedictine tradition have been practicing this "discipline of doing nothing" for some 1500 years now - a vital practice for a whole and healthy life.

Pretty good advice if you ask me. 

Morning has broken here in the desert -it's Sunday. I'm not making any plans today. 

I am going to "practice a discipline of doing nothing." 

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