Henry Miller described our favorite way of restoring our energy and spirit:
To be silent the whole day long, see no newspaper, hear no radio, listen to no gossip, be thoroughly and completely lazy, thoroughly and completely indifferent to the fate of the world is the finest medicine a man can give himself.”
We find ourselves doing just that periodically, as needed, on no particular schedule. It might be considered “doing nothing”, but really it is something very rich: rest from and letting go of everything. Simple, serious medicine.
In Marketplace’s Automatic Reply column, critical care physician Gabriel Bosslet calls it “diastole”, referring to the phase of the heartbeat when the heart muscle relaxes and allows the chambers to fill with blood.
…the process of the heart relaxing to refill, as a metaphor for this important time of life — a time of reflection and active refilling so that I am best able to function for those around me and be refilled by needed time with those I value the most.
His unique out-of-office message says “I am in diastole”, with his words on the importance of disconnecting from work.
Inspired by Miller, we compiled our favorite bits and reminders of “doing nothing”:
We’ve had this amazing photo on our wall ever since we clipped it from the New Yorker a few years ago. It was taken by Yumahara Hokume in the early thirties. Hokume’s nude seems only to be thinking, hanging out, mulling, resting… maybe even asleep: doing ‘nothing’, yet doing a great deal of living.
…I believe that having recourse to periods of and spaces for “doing nothing” are even more important, because those are times and places that we think, reflect, heal, and sustain ourselves. It’s a kind of nothing that’s necessary for, at the end of the day, doing something.
… And it can take a break to remember that, a break to do nothing, to listen, to remember what we are and where we are.
One day former Improvised Life Assistant Editor Mira Keras showed up wearing this simple declaration…. YES!
It’s a kind of nothing that’s necessary for, at the end of the day, doing something. —Jennifer Odell
Photo at top: Miller at his work desk, in a cabin in the California wilderness, Partington Ridge, Big Sur, circa 1955. Photographer unknown.