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On Doing Nothing

I wish I had more time in which to do nothing, but then I don’t suppose for one moment that I am alone in this wish.   I must however confess to liking hard work – a certain amount that is.   I like the resultant effects produced on body and mind of digging the garden or pitching bales of hay and sheaves of corn amid the shimmering heat of the summer sun.   The sweat oozing forth and leaving the inner body clean; the muscles toned up and aching with effort, the very rhythm of the work itself (I sincerely hope I can say the same twenty years from now).   Then at the close of a long day, an hour’s soak in the bath, an easy chair and a pint of beer, mundane items perhaps, yet nevertheless most satisfying.   The sweat has been replaced by the energy infusing rays of the sun that now emanate from the body with such a glow that you feel sure that those close to you must feel its radiant effect.   The mind is also cleansed, refreshed with the knowledge and satisfaction of a job well done.   On the other hand if total automation were to arrive tomorrow, I would not be alarmed at the prospect of so much leisure.   The future in this respect is viewed with some concern by the sociologist whose biggest headache is to educate the masses into finding something to do with their spare time.   This I should imagine, is one of the outcomes of our present way of life, the pace of which has accelerated to such a degree that one rarely has time to step off the whirling carousel to take stock of one’s surroundings and turn the eye inward upon the self.   How little we know of ourselves and our immediate surroundings.   There is enough untapped learning in my small garden alone to last me all my years without venturing further afield.   Even so, I don’t spend all my spare time digging, hoeing, planting and studying in the garden, for one can never come to the end of the toil produced when one steals a little piece of nature and imposes upon it the conformities of human requirements.   More often than not I am sitting, standing or leaning somewhere in the garden staring at a dead leaf sailing slowly across a sky-blue puddle, or a daffodil petal trembling in the breeze, or entering with the fuzzy humble bee into the heart of a foxglove.   I am not looking to learn, just looking, appreciating the colour and the movement, the scent and the touch, unfettered by a too enquiring mind, seeing the thing as a whole.   Study by all means, study deeply, specialise if you wish, but not all the time; come to the surface occasionally, sit back and view things as a whole.   Specialists we must have; the probing minds and microscopes of the entomologist, histologist, ichthyologists and all the other ‘ologists’ have benefitted us greatly and made us more aware and appreciative of the wonders and complexities of nature, but there is still, and always will be, room for the botanist who is like the manipulator of a jig-saw puzzle, fitting all the detailed parts together to form a complete and beautiful picture.

I find I am very contented when doing nothing and experience no sense of guilt if branded idle and time wasting.   If there is nothing of great import to attend to and I am in an idle mood, then I take advantage of the circumstances and indulge in idleness without shame.   Some months ago I made a garden seat of some timber taken from an ancient cottage close by that was being demolished.   Upon this seat, the wood of which must be some six hundred years old, I have spent many hours in idleness, fingering its rough grey armrests, unaware of time or responsibility; thinking not of tomorrow or yesterday, but experiencing with all the senses the eternal ‘now’; being aware of the warmth of the sun and the movement of the passing breeze; hearing the distinct low of a cow bereft of her calf, or listen to an echo mocking the cuckoo in the woods below.   I gaze at the coloured mass before me drinking in the riot of perfumes; look at the green pastures and the distant trees and see the blue shadows within.   The picture is complete, touching upon all the senses to produce a harmony that is deeply satisfying.   There is nothing out of place, no harsh discords, no roaring traffic or industrial smells.   Even the little cottage at the end of the lane, tree bound and heavy with thatch, gives the impression that it has grown naturally from the soil upon which it stands.   The senses and emotions are not funnelled into a microcosm but are given free range and allowed to accept all that comes within their range, creating in the mind an awareness and realisation of a complete and perfect whole.

One cannot be accused of day-dreaming under such conditions (though surely a little day-dreaming is not harmful) for no conscious thoughts are involved.   I have on occasions been surprised at the lightning passage of time during these moments, when the ‘moment’ has in fact turned out to be all of three hours.   This essay, which would normally have been written in a morning, has taken all day for this very reason.   Being a fine spring morning with but a few puffs of broken cloud adorning the sky, I took pen and paper into the garden, but despite my earnest intentions, I soon fell prey to the magnetism of a blackbird singing in the copse behind the piggery and my attention was lifted from the paper.

I walked through the piggery, crossed the brook and shouldered my way through the cow parsley towards the wood.   I didn’t meet anyone on my perambulation, I didn’t want to.   In fact I would have been most annoyed if I had.   I was perfectly happy in my immediate world of the ‘Now’; it was too lovely a world to let slip by unnoticed, or to be dimmed by the oppressive shadow of chores that had to be done.   Now, as I sit writing, the clock on the mantle shelf is striking eleven thirty p.m. but I am not at all alarmed at working until such a late hour even though I do have to rise early to milk the cows tomorrow morning.   At least I shall have the memory of a beautiful spring day during which I was alive and conscious, and will not be left empty handed as most of us too often are when we let the days of the living present slip through the sensory fingers to the dead past.


read the collected work as it is published: here




awareness wormhole: while walking
bench wormhole: up on the hill
blackbird wormhole: fine
blue & breeze & green wormhole: Elektra
clouds & mind wormhole: The Boats of Vallisneria by Michael J. Redford – A Precious Moment
doing & grey wormhole: my seat // now
echo & morning & shadow & time wormhole: Lapping Reflections [Deep Within Waters] by Mark L. Redford – moment
education & knowledge wormhole: listen willya
garden wormhole: The Boats of Vallisneria by Michael J. Redford – A Bowl of Gourds
life wormhole: Doctor Strange II – … things are the same again
sky wormhole: El Palacio, 1946
smell wormhole: The Boats of Vallesneria by Michael J. Redford – Autumn Thoughts
Spring wormhole: first Spring storm
sun & trees wormhole: one day / in 1956
wood wormhole: Lapping Reflections [Deep Within Waters] by Mark L. Redford – the soft canticle of the gourds:
work wormhole: ashramas