Hard work is not holy. Without a doubt, being able to work hard when you need to is a virtue. It definitely comes in handy in a variety of life situations. But working hard just because you can, or just because you feel the need to do something, isn’t necessarily a great thing. In fact, a lot of people are obsessed with getting things done, to being productive. As if the primary goal in life is to stack as much wood as possible on that ever growing woodpile. So yes, hard work will earn you a woodpile. But what are you going to do with all that wood?
Or maybe your version of stacking wood is collecting experiences. You travel across the planet to see the thing. You take a pic of you standing by the thing and you post it on social media. Item checked from list. Now what? Now you’re off to stand by the Next Big Thing. Like the poet Stephen Dobyns writes: “Each thing I do I rush through so I can do something else.”
To enjoy life to its fullest, you have to learn to be comfortable at rest, comfortable being unproductive, comfortable “wasting time.” Truth is, if you learn to simply sit still and enjoy the warmth of sunlight across your face, you have learned an absolutely essential life skill. If being able to work hard earns you that tall stack of wood, then learning to simply be is what lets you enjoy burning it Here are three tips to help you step off the hamster wheel every now and then:
Let Go Expectations
Treat your downtime as an open-ended experiment. Maybe schedule 5 minutes a day where you do nothing in particular. You sit on the couch and just . . . sit on the couch. Give up the idea that you must enjoy sitting there, or that you must be miserable while you sit there. Let go your expectations and just see what happens. Give up your need to use time as an object, a means to fulfill whatever seemingly urgent personal agenda. Just sit there, invite life in, let it come to you. Time is not your enemy. Life is not trying to get in your way. Can you make friends with the present moment, rather than using it as a means to an end?
Observe Your Physical Sensations
When you get right down to it, there’s no such thing as doing nothing. You sit there on the couch, trying to simply be, but your mind keeps moving. And if you tell your mind to behave itself and calm down, it will initially just rebel, becoming even more restless. The trick is to point your mind somewhere intentionally. Direct your awareness to your physical sensations. Try closing your eyes and observing any tension in your body. Notice the natural rise and fall of your breath. And when your mind wanders back toward being “productive,” toward thinking about various tasks and errands, simply be aware. Gently bring your mind back to your physical sensations. Your body is not something separate from you. When you stay in contact with your bodily awareness, you find your center. Your mind can invent stories. It can endlessly chase after What Should Be. But your body keeps you connected with What Is.
Pursue a Hobby
The happiest people I know tend to be passionate about their hobbies. A hobby involves an interesting blend of being productive/unproductive. On the one hand, you’re getting something done. You’re building that shed, tending that garden, knitting that sweater. One the other hand, these things are probably not essential to your daily life in a “practical” way. You’re not going to lose your job or become ill if you don’t get that shed built quickly enough. It may take some experimentation to find the right hobby, so explore. Be intentional about it. And once you’ve discovered a satisfying hobby, let it become a meditation. When you’re knitting that sweater, notice that sometimes you are “in the flow.” Life simplifies and clarifies for a few moments, and you are doing nothing whatsoever but knitting a sweater. Then there are moments when you become distracted. Your hands are still knitting, but your mind is thinking about things, solving problems, causing trouble. This is also okay Just note these moments, then return to knitting that sweater. This is how your mind moves. In, out . . . In, out . . . This is the rhythm of life. This is you. You can’t control it because you are it. Making peace with this natural ebb and flow is making peace with yourself.