Do you feel guilty about doing nothing

By James Reeves

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One of the most essential things for any of us in this life is to feel at ease. You might not necessarily value it, or even recognise your need for it, but most of our time is spent looking for it.

Many of us work hard so that we can relax about our living costs, and we shop for goods and services that simplify our lives, and we seek activities and objects we believe will make us feel more at ease. We want an easy life, and a restful life – a life full of rest and ease - and ironically, many of us undertake a search for it that is somewhat frantic.

There’s a movement taking place right now that focuses on creating a minimalist lifestyle, whether that’s by overhauling your home with a de-cluttering exercise, simplifying – or even restricting – your diet, or reworking your approach to shopping so that you buy fewer goods though ones of higher quality and longevity. There are countless books, television shows and social media channels devoted to such ‘life edits’, and I love a lot of the ideas presented and the ethos behind them. It’s no coincidence that this movement comes in line with another: that of ‘experiences’. There is somewhat of a shift from acquiring and ‘showing off’ things, to instead acquiring experiences, and then documenting them and sharing them with the world. Whether it’s a trip out for food, a walk in nature, a holiday abroad or a party with friends, “pics or it didn’t happen!”

Despite ‘restful activities’ (!) becoming increasingly popular, such as yoga, mindfulness, meditation, ‘nature baths,’ ‘gong baths,’ and probably just ‘regular baths’ (a personal favourite), as much as we are intrigued by their potential to leave us feeling more rested, we’re excited for the extra layer of experience – and the potential to document this experience – they offer.

With our homes sleek and refined, our diets cleaned and our social media accounts bursting with a catalogue of neatly curated spaces and ‘enriching’ experiences, have we all at last created a life devoid of clutter and loaded with meaningful activity?

Are we feeling all the more lighter for it? Are we at last at ease with our lives?

I can’t answer that question for you, so instead I will ask another: how might all this affect that part of you that doesn’t care about clutter or experiences? That part of you that remains still, constant, at ease and impartial whatever is happening in your life and regardless of what you may or may not possess?

This could be a difficult question to answer if you haven’t taken a moment lately to check-in with this part of you – the part of you that remains when all else is gone. When we rest – when we stop, completely – we might catch a glimpse of the constant awareness that is the background to all our experience.

When it comes to rest, we might struggle to ‘simply’ stop and let go. Our ideas about rest often encompass an activity that’s more restful than our usual day-to-day life – a long walk by the river, a good book, a massage – but we’re still not really stopping. If the walk is long, you don’t get much rest. If the book is good, you can’t put it down. None of these activities is really a stop. A full stop.

There are plenty of people out there resting – we know this, as it’s such a necessary part of life. If we’re ill, or exhausted, at a certain point we have to stop. If we reach the end of the road with a certain job, or are burnt out of a relationship – and these things happen all the time – we reach a dead end and can no longer continue along the trajectory we were on. In this way, rest is happening all the time, but what we’re maybe not seeing is that despite people everywhere partaking in such rest, it’s not talked about very much, and it’s certainly not celebrated. It’s not an Instagram sensation (yet).

Rest isn’t something you can easily talk about in an engaging way:

Jane: “What did you do at the weekend, Peter?”

Peter: “Not much…but I did I sit down and close my eyes for half an hour on Sunday morning!”

We might applaud Peter’s decision to rest, but from a conversational point of view, it has little value. It’s not juicy, exciting, photo-worthy or engaging. It’s nothing.

To take this point further, not only do we see and hear of lots of examples of (on the surface of things) busy and fulfilling lives and a lack of representation of the healthy aspects of rest due to its inherent ‘nothingness’, we might also have been given conscious or unconscious messages that refute or even cast rest in a negative light  (“The devil makes work for idle hands,” etc.). Particularly since the dawning of the industrial revolution we’ve been called to make the best use of the time we have by being busy and productive, and rest has been deemed as something of a counter-position to these qualities – something that might make us lazy, idle, stagnant and dull. You may have even been shamed for resting in the past, perhaps by a parent, teacher or sibling. Perhaps in a moment of taking necessary rest, you were made to feel bad about it in some way. I know I certainly have, many times (I will name no names…).

There are countless factors that contribute to a feeling of guilt whenever we choose to stop. You might feel guilty about stopping when it appears nobody else is, or you might have bought into some of these beliefs about rest being an unconstructive undertaking. We might push on, still looking for that sense of ease (by keeping going we might think we can avoid those negative feelings of shame and guilt and hope for a more restful future) or feel bad when we do stop, knowing that everybody else is busy, (even though they might want to stop too!). Perhaps there’s part of us that believes if we’re not striving and pushing forward, we don’t fit in, or are abnormal in some way.

Maybe staring at a blank wall looks weird from the outside, but have you tried it recently? It’s really nice.

In short, rest either gets no press, or bad press. So I see it as my mission to share the brilliance of rest.

There are indeed some clear benefits to rest: an increase in creativity and problem solving, more capacity for insight, higher energy levels, fewer stress hormones in the body. Nobody could argue against that list, what’s not to like?

However, whereas these benefits could be described as brilliant, the brilliance I wish to point you towards goes even deeper. Brilliance, or radiance, can be taken at a personal level (to be bright of mind and body) but there’s something ‘brilliant’ about the underlying quality of rest itself. When we rest, for long enough periods of time, we start to uncover the very essence of who we are. We start to know a quiet place, a stillness, which is our own consciousness shining forth. This ‘nothing’ (it’s not a thing , and in that way, Instagram will never get a hold of it) we see is the stillness out of which all life unfolds. It’s the space in which our thoughts and perceptions happen. It’s the stillness behind the activity of living. Whilst yet uncreated, it’s the potential out of which everything manifests.

There is undeniably something that starts to ‘shine’ from this place of stillness. Our sense of ease, abundance, joy, and calmness all rise forth from this stillness, without the need for anything whatsoever. When we are well rested, we sparkle. How amazing to fizz with life without having to do anything to make such a thing happen. No planning required. No skills needed. No kit. Nothing. Just you, just as you are, stopping.

I’ve been experimenting with rest and making a generous place for it in my life for quite some time. I’m a much nicer human when I’ve taken time to rest. Stopping is essential; it’s not a luxury.

‘Nothing’ may not seem very exciting on the surface, but if you’re prepared to embrace it, it could become life-changing.

So please, go on, have a lie-down. Stare out the window. Listen to the birds. See if you can indulge in a little guilt-free nothingness. It’s yours for the taking, and it’s brilliant.

All you have to do is nothing.

(And don’t try to take a picture of it.)