Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Art of Doing Nothing or Balance

Admission: I finally finished a bookclub book. A year later. I've been toting around a copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's memoir Eat, Pray, Love for the last year, since bookclub read it and I got through the first 4 or 5 chapters and just couldn't keep my eyes open. In the throngs of 1st trimester exhaustion, last spring it just wasn't going to happen.

I may have, however, also gotten the book on audio cd and I may also have ripped it to listen to later. And finally this spring with my new iPod, I started listening. What's really sad is that I have read the first maybe 10 chapters countless times. Why? Because when I was actually attempting to read the book I kept having to start over to remember what was going on. And then my iPod changed changed playlists without me knowing what track I was on...It got to the point where I knew what she was going to say next!

Finally, though, I made it past that point in reading/listening and I finished the book. One bit of a chapter really struck me and so I relate part of it here.

From chapter 21, "Generally speaking, though, Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one. Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that's not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment. Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today. But as Luca Spaghetti pointed out, we seem to like it. Alarming statistics back this observation up, showing that many Americans feel more happy and fulfilled in their offices than they do in their own homes. Of course, we all inevitably work too hard, then we get burned out and have to spend the whole weekend in our pajamas, eating cereal straight out of the box and staring at the TV in a mild coma (which is the opposite of working, yes, but not exactly the same thing as pleasure). Americans don't really know how to do nothing. This is the cause of that great sad American stereotype--the overstressed executive who goes on vacation, but cannot relax."

What struck me is the truth of this paragraph. We (Americans) work hard. We aren't good with quiet. We don't know how to relax, how to simple "do" nothing. And yes, mom, I've eaten cereal out of the box watching horrible Saturday afternoon movies. Just because it was the opposite of working. But pleasurable? Maybe, but mostly not. How do we just be? Is that why Americans take the "great American vacation" each summer? To get away to the cabin, the lake? To do nothing? There's got to be a better way to find the nothing time.

During both my time in Scotland and Italy, what was impressed on me was the art of doing nothing. Of being. Of being relaxed and in no hurry. My Scottish flatmates taught me the saying, "I can't be arsed" when they didn't want to do something or were feeling lazy. But somehow, it wasn't about laziness, so much as somehow really saying, "I don't need to do anything else. I'm happy just sitting here contemplating the rain fall from the sky as I drink some warm tea." Interestingly enough, I have never been more relaxed in my life than the time I spent living in Scotland. In Italy, meals can last upwards of 3 hours and teach you to just sit, wait and just be. Sip some wine, watch the people around you, enjoy, relax. There is nothing else you need to do this afternoon or this evening. Or--sit and eat your gelato on the steps of some old church and listen. You can't know a place until you hear it, taste it--Wait! that's Frances Mayes talking...Back to this one.

As Liz Gilbert searches for balance in her life, she meditates and learns about the art of quiet, and of stillness of the mind. Btw, she's got some great inner dialogue that she shares with us readers as she learns to meditate. The kicker is--she finds it, that balance thing. And what hit me the most from this book was--can I, will I?

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