When was the last time you did nothing?

I read an article called Why Theater Majors Are Vital in the Digital Age and was struck by this paragraph:

A colleague tells a story about assigning a scene from a 1970s play in which one character waits on a park bench for some time. The actor was unable to conceive of any kind of “waiting” that did not involve having a cellphone to mitigate the boredom. She simply did not know what to do.

It’s easy to pass this off as a generational thing: “Ha, ha! Millennials love their phones!” But when was the last time you waited somewhere without a phone or even a book or magazine to distract you?

Our cultural disdain for doing nothing goes beyond screen time. Even when people decide to unplug for a while they strategically replace their screen time with doing something. Read a book! Play a game! Bake some cookies! Children who complain of boredom are told to “find something to do.” Our phones are usually our most readily available time fillers, but even without them most people are uncomfortable doing nothing.

When was the last time you did nothing? How long could you maintain it? A minute? Five minutes? More?

Doing nothing is hard. It can make us feel anxious and uncomfortable. Maybe even guilty.

But doing nothing is magnificent.

Doing nothing is amazing because, of course, even doing nothing isn’t doing nothing. But if you are doing nothing in particular you can discover wonderful things through people watching, listening to the wind, seeing your children play, thinking, imagining, daydreaming, relaxing.

A couple weeks ago I forgot to bring my phone when I took my children to swim class. It was a full hour-and-a-half of when I couldn’t look at my phone. And I didn’t die!

I listened to the echoing sounds of the pool. I watched my children jump into the water. I thought about a play I’m working on.

A few days ago I went to the park and realized my phone had a low battery, so I didn’t want to use it much. I didn’t die then either!

I noticed the patterns the shadows of the trees. I felt the sun on my face. I let myself get lost in my thoughts.

I got ideas.

I tell myself I don’t write as much as I used to because I do too many other things. I thought that meant I was doing other things when I should be writing. Perhaps the truth is that to write more I should do nothing more. If the ideas are there I will find time to write. Sometimes I even write on my phone.

When was the last time you did nothing? What could you accomplish if you did nothing more often?

RELATED POST: Writer’s block versus writer’s ennui

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