What I Learned from My Week Doing Nothing

Rest here

Rest here (Photo credit: oliverkendal)

I took last week off from work. It was an experiment of sorts. No plans. No lists. A “stay-cation”. I stayed home and did virtually nothing – reading, tv, a little housework, some random mending tasks as the urge struck, a little random sorting, worked out some, slept long, and ate 3 meals a day. I still answered the phone. I didn’t feel all that great – pretty tired but not really ill. I just tried not to get too bent about it.

I’ve done “nothing” before, but never so intentionally – in the past it has been more as resistance to some heinous task or procrastination about schoolwork. And it’s not as though I did not have plenty that needed doing! I could have made a list a mile long, to be sure.

This was the first time I have undertaken such radical self care, and it was sort of a planned accident. I’d taken no real time around the holidays, and something said “now”, so I blocked the week and notified everyone. I can honestly say I have no regrets. I had just enough time to experience my stress level drop to nearly nothing, to become almost bored, to look out the windows at the winter weather and wildlife, to just be. Amazingly enough, I learned some valuable things while doing nothing:

  • Given the type of work I do, I probably need a whole week off at least 4 times per year
  • “Time off” does not mean doing home improvement, cleaning the entire house, or running around doing every imaginable errand
  • The stress level I normally sustain is too high
  • My body prefers to rush around less than I usually do
  • I need some movement every day
  • Too much television makes me feel depressed
  • Time moves more slowly when the television is off
  • Everything on television is pretty lame and fake and hyped up
  • There’s a sort of guilty feeling when I do nice things for myself – I noticed it every time I made myself french toast for breakfast or some other meal that seemed “too nice”, very often while I was sitting doing nothing, and after sleeping late
  • I don’t want to be on vacation forever. I actually do want to work, even though sometimes work is so hard that I fantasize about time off. When that starts happening, it’s probably time for a break

Teachers Chogyam Trungpa and Pema Chodron talk often of mindfulness practice bringing us into contact with our fundamental goodness. I discovered that, given a choice unfettered by worries about what others might think, I would not choose to be a slacker or a beach bum or a hermit! It’s obvious I need more than zero stress to be healthy. I did, however, notice worry and guilt about the percentage of time it seems I can spend “working” and be healthy. I think this is unusual since a major motivation for having my own business is to not have to punch a clock or be a slave to a 40-hour workweek.

Letting go of control of my “time off” made it time off in a very real sense, and reminded me that I could trust my fundamental goodness. I effortlessly accomplished small tasks to keep the house running and meals made, and enough exercise to avoid couch-induced back problems, plus mending, to boot. I feel so much better than if I had made a long list for the week – I did less, but ironically, feel like I accomplished plenty.

All in all, I feel like the time was incredibly productive. First and foremost, I feel rested. I stumbled across a topic for inquiry and possible growth – the feeling of guilt, or of a need to justify my existence with work to “earn” or “deserve” good self-treatment. I made contact with the deeper part of me that knows what I need to be healthy and it told me I need to slow down and cram less into the time, and to take breaks. I discovered that it did not rip a hole in time and space when I slowed down and did not make every moment of every day “productive” by societal standards.

I also noticed the mind constantly telling me about things that should concern me, what others might think about what I was doing, and many thoughts about the need to hurry and “do it” (fix the house, execute the business ideas, read all of the library books, get in shape, clean up, take care of belated correspondence) NOW, and what horrible things might happen if I didn’t act immediately. This tyranny of the mind, I am sure, is at least partly responsible for the stress I carry a good deal of the time. It was good to have a whole week straight of really getting to look at it and see it for what it is – just the mind doing what it does, just thoughts trying to convince me that I am in a race against the clock. Not true, not good or bad – just thoughts.

I will try to welcome the guilt and the feelings of needing to hurry as guests, and ask if they have anything to tell me. They are nowhere near as powerful as they used to be – I credit EFT and my meditation practice for this – but it seems there is still something left to be seen, and now I am able to stay with the feelings long enough to look more deeply.


Resting… (Photo credit: nejcbole)

One thing is for sure – we get many messages from society and family that tell us what we should be doing and how much! It takes a bit of tuning in to hear our inner wisdom tell us what’s really best for us, and faith and courage to act on it. I was so lucky to be able to take this time, but I’ve also made incremental choices along the way the last few years to put myself in that position. How about you? Do you need a break? What prevents you from taking one?

About Cynthia M Clingan

Cynthia Clingan is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Columbus, Ohio who offers somatic psychotherapy, spiritual coaching, and meditation and mindfulness instruction.
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5 Responses to What I Learned from My Week Doing Nothing

  1. Rob says:

    Yes! The guilt associated with “I should be doing more.” A wonderfully perceived unity of your heart and mind with this instrospective post Cynthia. My life has changed dramatically since I turned off the television. I am living my own life rather than ignoring it. I am living my own life, rather than fantasizing vicariously through characters. Very nice read!

    • Thanks! You know, it was difficult to write this post, knowing that I would publish it. There is so much pressure to do do do all the time, both overt and subtle messages from everywhere!

  2. ativan says:

    I was curious if you ever thought of changing the page layout of your website?
    Its very well written; I love what youve got to say. But maybe you could a little
    more in the way of content so people could connect with it better.

    Youve got an awful lot of text for only having 1 or 2 pictures.
    Maybe you could space it out better?

    • Thanks for the feedback. I do think a lot about changing the layout, but I am torn. I go back and forth between the idea of adapting to the sound byte format a lot of the web has become, and just keeping it real here for folks who aren’t so much looking to be visually entertained. I don’t understand the “content” comment…text is not content?…could you please explain this and what you mean by “space it out better”? Thanks for visiting!

  3. Kimberly says:

    I enjoyed your article.
    Spacing and pictures are just fine too.
    Great job!

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