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It’s Okay to Do Nothing, Too

Apr. 24, 2020During the overwhelming coronavirus pandemic, having projects is great, and so is taking time to just be.

The other night, after doing the dishes after dinner, I realized I felt a little ’whelmed — exhausted, kind of numb. That day, the number of worldwide coronavirus cases surpassed two million. I couldn’t fathom the thought of doing some other task around the house. And so I just stood outside and looked at the stars for a minute, and then I went to bed. It was 8:45. 

As coronavirus has overtaken society, my wife and I, like almost every other citizen of the world, cancelled pretty much all of spring. Suddenly, we had an abundance of an essential resource we often fail to consider: time. When we’re home, our Sunday ritual is to sit around and drink coffee while reading the New Yorker or a new book — either on our porch or in front of the fire. But more often than not, we aren’t home. We’re hiking, biking, skiing, or traveling. If there’s one thing we love more than reading, it’s to move.

Photo by SHOP SLO® on Unsplash

So, in self-quarantine, with most movement out of the picture, we did what everybody else was doing. We watched Tiger King. We found beans, pasta, flour (but still no TP). We baked various types of breads, cakes, muffins, biscuits, cookies. We cooked every Allison Roman recipe. We planted seeds, gardens, house plants, yard plants. We wore out our dogs. We read an unhealthy amount of news from the Times. And we were more social via Zoom than we’d ever been in real life.

Somehow, it actually felt like we were busier. And so lately I’ve been thinking a lot about doing more of nothing. The impact of coronavirus produces a lot of anxiety. It’s great to have distractions from the news, but sometimes those activities can feel like an endless amount of tasks. A quest for yet more productivity and substitutes for consumption during a time when many of the ones we’ve come to know are shut down. And these tasks can merely delay acknowledging the stress many of us are feeling right now. 

Studies show the conscious pursuit of happiness can increase feelings of loneliness and disconnection because it forces us to focus on ourselves. Better to accept. To be. A very ancient, very zen idea: Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself, goes an old Japanese proverb. 

Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.

Photo by swabdesign on Unsplash

“Zen is not some fancy, special art of living,” writes zen master Shunru Suzuki. “Our teaching is just to live, always in reality, in its exact sense. To make our effort, moment after moment, is our way. In an exact sense, the only thing we actually can study in our life is that on which we are working in each moment.” 

This just being, is, admittedly, an uphill battle. Constantly doing, is the very nature of our contemporary technological landscape. Our very culture. In her book, How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, Jenny Odell writes, “In a world where our value is determined by our productivity, many of us find our every last minute captured, optimized, or appropriated as a financial resource by the technologies we use daily.”

And so I’m taking baby steps to resist that. So my life isn’t just movement from computer screen to phone screen to tv screen. 

After all, quarantine gives us the time to slow down, to appreciate everything we still have around us. I’ve been taking more time to notice all the growth around our backyard. Our trees are blossoming, grasses are poking up through the soil, our seedlings are emerging, birds are flitting about, bees are back. Spring is slowly emerging.


Show us how you’re slowing down and embracing being present @AvocadoMattress with #AvocadoGreenLiving.

John Davies

By John Davies

 —  John is the copywriter at Avocado Green and a longtime outdoor journalist. He lives in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains near Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his wife and two dogs.

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