The pleasure of leisure: finding value by withdrawing from our activities, from time to time
The 2020s and 2021s have witnessed the slow but inevitable breakdown in our lives due to the coronavirus pandemic. In the midst of times of restlessness and pain, what made life bearable – and perhaps even painful for many of us – were the pockets of leisure and lounging that we carved out for ourselves. .
Firstpost’s new “Leisure & Loiter” series explores the value of these acts – and the many things that encompass them such as rest, love, pleasure, leisure, travel, daydreaming, food, conversation – add to our daily existence.
In the first part, Rohini Kejriwal pleads for doing nothing from time to time.
“I like to do nothing,
so I do it all day.
Everywhere I don’t do anything
I never do it wrong.
When I do nothing
there is nothing I do,
because if I started something,
that would mean that I was done.
– Jack Prelutsky, ‘I am sitting doing nothing‘
In a society where activity is the norm and productivity is pushed down our 24×7 psyche, it’s a pleasant surprise to take the time to do nothing in particular.
Until the global lockdown of 2020, the majority of us had forgotten what it was like to have nowhere to be, nothing to do. If the past year has taught us anything, it’s to stop taking anything for granted. A year of lost opportunities, canceled plans and more time than ever before. Time has melted, as with Salvador Dalí The persistence of Memory.
Confined to their homes, many were forced to learn new skills in order to survive: cooking, gardening, sourdough baking, carrying out long-standing personal projects and life changes. The world has also seen an increase in depression, anxiety, drug addiction and chronophobia – the fear of the passing of time, often felt by prisoners and terminally ill patients.
I am writing this essay to show that time is not the enemy.
2020 left me with sore knees, impostor syndrome, and no stable income. But all those hours alone gave me time to read, jot down and imagine new personal projects. Pandemic hobbies have been embraced and abandoned: 1000-piece puzzles, cooking all the dishes in my mom’s cookbook, tedious sourdough experiments. It made me value time (and the lack of it) like never before and re-prioritize what really matters, forcing me to recognize my privilege of having free time.
The act of making time for leisure and strolling is almost an essential aspect of creative experiences, for me anyway. Usually a question or idea pops up, and instead of trying to find the answer right away, I allow myself to bring in the game element and follow wherever it takes me. That’s why I always keep a notebook and a pen with me, in case inspiration decides to come knocking on the door. I have actively learned to slow down my thoughts, to do things only for love because they bring me joy, for no other ulterior motive. It helped me focus less on the action and more on being.
Now is the time to decondition and unlearn the ways of thinking and acting. We underestimate the power of leisure and strolling, of what happens unconsciously. It’s an urge to step back from the cultural brainwashing and take a moment for yourself.
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, in his popular book Rest: why you do more when you work less, writes:
“When we treat workaholics as heroes, we express the belief that work rather than contemplation is the source of great ideas and that the success of individuals and businesses is a measure of their long hours. “
There is a lot of evidence that the opposite is really true; for example, the slow but steady shift to four-day work weeks in many parts of the world. We are worth more than our productivity.
Far too many writers, artists and poets have vouched that creativity comes when you become the vessel, the channel for ideas to flow out of you. But in the digital age where we are always hyper-connected and overloaded with content, we must free up free space for the “great magic”, as Elizabeth Gilbert calls it, to emerge.
“The trick is to simply follow your little moments of curiosity. It does not require a huge effort. Just turn your head an inch. Pause for a moment. Respond to what caught your eye. Take a look at it. Is there something for you? Gilbert asks.
In a generation of excessive thinkers, wouldn’t it be nice to be a non-thinker, to get much needed R&R for the mind? Doing nothing intentionally opens the doors to possibilities, leaving room for a richer inner life and dormant ideas to rise to the surface.
Artwork © Divya / @ divcookie for Firstpost
The trick, I find, is not to try too hard to do nothing. When Robert Frost wrote his famous’Stop at Woods on a snowy evening ‘, he was basically wandering around the New England landscape and arrived at the poem. Likewise, beloved poet Mary Oliver has devoted her entire life to paying attention to the intervening moments. In his poem ‘Summer day ‘, Mary aptly writes:
“I know how to be careful, how to fall
in the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to walk in the fields,
that’s what I’ve been doing all day.
Embrace idleness. Let go of the notion, guilt, and perception of laziness that comes with ignoring every second of your waking life. By all means, have a routine, structure your day into slots and things to do, be productive, and get your job done. But stop trying to beat time.
In a world filled with to-do lists and deadlines, it can be difficult to find the time to do nothing. But I like the approach of writer Catherine Andrews. Andrews, who runs a fantastic newsletter Sunday lollipop, recommends re-branding lists, such as the “to create” list, the “trust me with” list, the “did it” list and / or the “to review” list. less.
Above all, allow yourself to be bored. Find inspirational moments in boring, mundane moments. Go for a walk with no destination in mind. There is an abundance of literature on the virtues of idling and the benefits of boredom. In our age of hyperproductivity, the words of Rebecca Solnit in Field notes to get lost make sense of the human propensity to stroll:
“Thinking is generally seen as doing nothing in a production-oriented culture, and doing nothing is difficult to do. It is best to disguise it as doing something, and the closest to doing nothing is walking. It strikes a delicate balance between working and idling, being and doing.
What we tend to forget is that it helps to take a break from creative pursuits every now and then. No one seems to take the time to do nothing more.
If we constantly fill our days with things to do, instead of little things like daydreaming or looking out the window, we are stifling the very source of our creativity and imagination. One of my favorite personal projects from a place of boredom is a Cloud Doodles series, where I doodle the creatures and sky scenes I imagine in photographs of clouds.
Another example is that of artist David Hockney, who was stuck in his Norman home when the pandemic struck. Instead of getting bored with the same views or feeling the pandemic rut that most of us felt, he turned this time into one of the most productive times of his life. Treating the lockdown as a sort of residence, Hockney decided to devote time to truly seeking beauty in his surroundings, leading to a whole new exhibit. David Hockney: My Normandy.
Like Hockney, the pandemic has made me draw more than ever. This one time also taught me to embrace the idea of creating something just because I want to. The arrival of an idea is reason enough to bring it to life, regardless of the end result. Not everything we do or write has to be a masterpiece or a magnum opus. We don’t need to subscribe to the ideals and standards set by the internet or the elitist art world. We have to accept that creative blockages and impostor syndrome can come and go. If that happens, disengage, try something different, get bored, and come back to your creativity with a new perspective and renewed energy.
We need to embark on the path of what I like to call gentleness – the slow, intentional process of becoming gentler on oneself. Next time you feel the itch to do something, ask yourself what WH Davies did in his poem ‘Hobbies‘:
What is this life if, full of care, we don’t have time to get up and look?
Rohini Kejriwal is a Bangalore-based writer, poet and curator. She runs Alipore Post, a newsletter and curated journal that highlights contemporary art, poetry, photography, music and all that is creative.