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personal reflections

Doing Nothing

Reflections on a year of lock-down

2020 has been a crazy year and an excellent opportunity to deeply explore a subject that has fascinated me for years, the ability of humans to do nothing or lack thereof! At various points in my life i have felt that i get too busy and yet fail to get done all the things i had planned so i have experimented with deliberately doing nothing. Then struggle to decide what counts as nothing, does reading, Netflix, listening to a podcast, lying on the grass watching clouds, at what point am I actually doing nothing?

Spring

As we started this year a virus swept round the world and slowly forced us all into lock-downs. We where told to stay home and do nothing! My dad had been very ill with something exactly like the virus early on and i nursed him then went home to flat mates and by the time lock-down started we where all ill with a virus, who knows what. I decided to do nothing, rest get better and not struggle against the imposed restrictions that, although difficult, i knew made sense. Those few months where a perfect time to explore doing nothing but i actually did quite a bit in the end! I played lots of Minecraft and got involved with the scrubs project for a while (i am good with a sewing machine) but the whole thing had a very frantic energy so i made three pairs and moved on to making face masks as i was sure we would need them soon enough!

I also spent a lot of time lying on my bed watching the sky, the formation of clouds as they floated over, changes in colour and especially how blue the sky was without aircraft pollution. I also watched the wildlife, I live by the river and opposite my house there is a piece of wild space with with disused slipway which is loved by all manner of creatures. Foxes regularly come to drink and relax in the morning sun. Land birds come to drink and water birds get out and doze on the edge. Birds visited my bird feeders and stole the liners from my hanging baskets for their nests. I also watched Lenny – my dog – as he lazed his way thru lock-down delighting in how i was around and so relaxed.

The ever busy human mind

During this time i was profoundly stuck by how busy we are as a species. In my state of ill health it was easy to do nothing, my body needed stillness to do its miracle work of healing which it did and this year i have been the most well i have been in my whole life. As i watched the creatures around me i reflected on how they did only what they needed to, when they felt safe and well feed they rested, sleeping or just drifting on the water. Lenny was a constant reminder, moving from one comfy place to another and only being truly active when demanding his meals. I was struck by 2 things:

  • wildlife has total freedom and no safety net, having to constantly fight for territory, be vigilant about predators, seek out all the food they needed every single day and if they got sick or injured hope for the best.
  • all the creatures i observed only did what was needed and rested whenever there was nothing related to survival, definitely no hobbies

As a species we have done an incredible of job of creating safe spaces for us to rest in, we have land registries so we don’t have to fight over territory, houses with locks so we secure ourselves and our possessions, clean drinkable water and cooking fuel piped direct into our homes, we can get food delivered to our doorsteps so many ways, there is literally no need to leave and with the internet it is even possible to earn enough money to pay for all of this from the safety of our home. I know this does not apply everywhere in the world but where it doesn’t it is aspired to. We willing sacrifice our freedom for this safety, take Swallows for example. They fly freely back and forth between their winter and summer homes without the need for visas or passports they are not citizens of any country and can go wherever they like. There is no authority telling them how to behave or what rules they have to live by. But they do not have police or armies that protect them as they travel, there is no guarantee that the house they have made their nest on for years will be there when the come back at in the spring and if it isn’t they just have to find another.

I was also stuck by how busy we are, we have created the prefect place of safety with chairs and beds to relax on but we don’t. Adults spend huge amounts of their waking time working (as well as traveling to and from) and lots maintaining homes and gardens leaving almost no leisure time. Children spend lots of time at school, doing homework or at organized activities so even they don’t have that much free time. And then once we have free time what do we actually do with it: watch telly, do exercise (because lots of our lifestyles are so bad for us), eat too much take up sports or hobbies. We are literally digging up the planet to create our homes and then we are creating so much waste to entertain ourselves. We [and the planet] are victims of our minds that are so overactive that we are unable to sit just on the sofa and enjoy the safety we have created.

Boredom

As soon as we unoccupied we seem prone to becoming bored, these seems to be peculiar to being human, I have never seem any of my pets express anything to suggest they are bored, i wonder if this drives us to constantly make things even if they are not needed. My mother developed an interest in quilting once we had flown the nest, she was still busy helping run a business and maintaining her gardens and a house but spent hours making beautiful bedspreads, cushions and rag rugs, most of which now sit in the cellar unused. I am bemused how these two practical crafts, quilting and rag rugging, that turned worn out garments and linens into new rugs and bed spreads for folks who could not afford to buy such things, turned into a hobby.

I have noticed quite a few media articles on boredom and how it is actually good for us. The state of boredom drives us to do something different or new, helps us to be creative but those “attributes” in us are the very thing that makes us take so many resources. Why we want more books, to sew more quilts than we have beds to put them on, why we replace perfectly serviceable furniture with brand new serviceable furniture, why we want to eat food that is impossible to grown in our country that has to be shipped thousand of miles, etc etc. Boredom may be good for us but if we could just laze around a bit more on our old comfy sofa the world might be a better place.

Summer

We where blessed with such a beautiful summer but it was an odd one. Summer is normally my busiest time of the year. My festival season starts in May and goes until September with most weekends having an event to go to only getting home for a night or two most weeks if at all. All of my community events where cancelled so i just spend weeks at a time in Kent in my camper-van on a small parcel of land when i am creating a woodland and wild space. I got to be there all summer whereas normally i would be lucky to get there once. It was beautiful and very nourishing, i saw a few dear friends and only left Lenny behind once which is a record!

I am left seriously questioning whether i go back to my massively busy summer festival season. I have discovered, which, to be fair i had rather suspected, what i love most is being in my van outside close to nature. Standing on the grass to shower in cold water, going outside to pee even when it is raining, cooking on a wood stove, being intimately aware of the temperature and if its windy. I have no idea if festivals will run next year but i won’t be applying for many thats for sure.

Autumn

Brings another lock-down as the days are getting really short and the weather cold. I decided to be productive and tick some things of my mental todo list. Spring 2019 i signup for XR Boycott Fashion and was running out of a few things, I had inherited my mothers sewing collection which is massive so i started making clothes. I have really loved doing something that i have not done for years and results in something that is useful, needed and does not damage the planet. I have made shorts, PJs tops, jackets and all from vintage fabric. I am also enjoying how my clothes are different, they are what i need and i know that nobody worked for slave wages in unsafe conditions creating them.

I have also had the most consistent yoga practice ever and been eating well too, i am feeling the benefits for this self care. I have come into this lock-down prepared and nourished from a summer of sun and lazying around. I think Lenny has been a good influence!

Winter

The autumn nationwide lock-down turned into a local lock-down and it seems likely the situation will stay the same until spring at the least. I have learnt to surrender to the enforced stillness, although when my plans to get away where snatched from me i raged for a while. I think it was healthy to not bury my emotions and meant i opened to the incredible luxury of a safe place to be stuck in with all practical needs meet and endless entertainment.

I decided to hobbit and fast over Christmas, (and yes i am aware of the obvious contradiction of fasting while hobbiting) and have been reminded of how easy it is to do nothing when fasting. I have laid around for hours, dreamed and not got bored at all. It has also allowed me to write down what has been swimming around in my mind since spring.

As we approach 2021 it is hard to hopeful, the world is still in the grips of a pandemic and our little island is breaking a long union with our closest neighbour which makes me deeply sad. Surly we need to cooperate, pull down the barriers and work together, not builds walls between us. I am sure we will all pay a dear price for this decision created in part by lies and false promises that tapped into peoples fears and need for security but what is done is done.

I will take my lead from the creatures around me most especially Lenny, focusing on what i need to do and what i can do. I have taken the XR fashion boycott again and will endeavor to only buy and make things that i need, to grow what i can and buy local and mostly bring joy to the world and work towards peace.

Father, give us courage to change what must be altered, serenity to accept what cannot be helped, and the insight to know the one from the other.

Reinhold Niebuhr

Be more Lenny

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