“I loaf and invite my soul, I lean and loaf at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.” – Walt Whitman
Alright Walt, that sounds fine and dandy there, but I have no time to loaf. I’m a busy guy. I’m a “I need more than 24 hours in a day to get stuff done” kind of dude. I have things to attend to, capisce? I’m not a type-A personality, but certainly not a C student of life, so stop lollygagging by the stream there, dust the dirt from your smoking jacket and get something done.
Of course my conversation is a little bit theatrical. I mean, Walt’s dead and I don’t know if he owns a smoking jacket, so maybe this chat is really towards me, or the idea of loafing about. It all sounds like a pipe dream, this loafing – sort of like when people in the grocery store express line really have less than 16 items and no one is counting pennies. A real doozy of a dream. But the idea of loafing about seems completely antithetical to what we are supposed to do or be…as members of society and as recovered / recovering alcoholics.
I say that because we are conditioned to be busy bodies. Work is seen as a noble endeavour. Work, in all manifestations of the word, is focused, positive and productive. At least that is what is portrayed. We work at our jobs, we work at making our homes nicer, we work at getting thinner / healthier / prettier, we work at our recovery. Work, work, work. Put the spotlight on the workaholic and watch the accolades fly. It’s an acceptable way to escape – work. No one dies from working too hard, right? (Oh wait, the Japanese have a word for that – karoshi).
So what’s this idea of idling about, like teens at the mall (do they still do that? I’m caught in a John Hughes life here). What’s the benefit of whittling away time, like some hobo on the boxcars? What’s the point of just milling about, petting the cats and watching reality TV when there are a million and one things to be taken care of?
Look, they tell us that recovery is work. They tell us that if we put in even 50% of the work in recovery that we put into drinking, we’re on solid ground. They tell us that sobriety doesn’t just happen – it’s something we foster and build towards.
“It’s a process, not an event.”
“It works if you work it.”
“Do the work.”
“Are you working on your sobriety today?”
And you know, it is work in many ways. I had to work at this thing I have now, and continue to be vigilant in my recovery and spiritual life so that I maintain my emotional fitness and not come undone by the slightest wind or Katy Perry song (sorry, I just can’t deal with her).
But allow me to let you in on a little secret. Something that has taken me time to understand. Something that has taken me off the hook countless times. And that is this: sometimes it’s okay to do…nothing. You heard me. Nothing. It’s alright to do nothing. Heresy! Blasphemy! Off thee to a nunnery with such foul words stinging thy tongue like angry honey bees! This is a first world nation, and we need to do everything all the time. No one gets plaques on the wall for being the best loafer of the month.
When I got hurt running not too long ago, the best piece of advice I got was from a guy at work, a fellow runner who was also injured, who said “ah – just put your feet up and eat some chips.” THAT was his sage advice. What do you mean just put my feet up? I’m hurt and that means I need to work at healing, don’t you know? I need to do stretches, exercises, heat baths, cold compresses, shock therapy, massage, etc. I will not sit idle like some slovenly daydreamer at the bus station and not do anything about this.
Well, guess what? That’s pretty much all I could do. Idle. Sure I did some of those helpful measures, but in the end it was really about doing nothing. Sometimes, the best action or response to a problem is to do nothing. Restrain of pen and tongue perhaps. Perhaps not say what’s on my mind. Not make that amend as I would hurt them at my expense. Perhaps allow someone their pain so that they can learn from a situation. Perhaps just let things unfold as the Universe would have it, rather than have my ego dictate something that isn’t meant to be.
As they say, the doctor puts the cast on, God does the healing. I can’t will myself to do certain things. Sometimes I need to open up the space for things to come to me. And that space often comes in the form of not taking an action. Of quiet contemplation. Of picking at the lint of a sweater while staring at the stars. Of putting my damn feet up and picking at some Doritos (extra spicy, please, and a napkin for those orange fingers I inevitably will get.) Sometimes it’s about what I don’t do as opposed to what I want to do that gets me the right result.
The hardest thing to do in my recovery was doing nothing. Sometimes my sponsor would tell me to go see a movie, to stop working on my recovery. An old-timer told me to just sit for 10 minutes daily, not meditating, but just think of something that makes me happy. Contemplation. I’ve been told countless times to relax and take it easy. I’ve been counselled often in my early recovery to just take some down time – go for a walk, or do a crossword puzzle. Take a breather. Chill the F-out. And this was very difficult for me to do. I was a man of action. Which is strange to say, because as an active alcoholic, I rarely got much done. Booze kills ambition, don’t you know? Paradoxical voodoo stuff.
So the idea of letting my sword and hair down and just being was a tough pill to swallow. The fact remained that I was afraid to not do anything because that meant I had to be with me in all ways. I didn’t have that distraction or energy focused on something else. It was just me with me and I didn’t like that Match.com pairing. I’ve spent my whole life trying to break up with myself and now you’re hitching us up for good? I don’t like that deal. Odd Couple stuff, but without the hijinks. And yet, it was just me. So doing things made me feel more productive, but really what I was doing was escaping facing that man in the mirror. The one I used to spit on.
Puttering about, as hard as it has been for me to do, has given me many benefits. I get recharged. Solutions to problems come to me out of the blue. I get a new perspective on things. I feel more connected to the Creator. I come to others in a new way. I see the world slightly different than when I am in work mode. I get some joy. And this is where play comes into the picture (that’s another topic, but suffice to say that there are those who see play as our ultimate goal in life.) Play, in all manifestations of the word, is where we are closest to our Maker. When I am at rest, when I am quiet and still, when I am focused on the unfocused, that is when the spirit visits me. That is where I am met at a deeper level. I am more whole in the something of my nothingness.
In running circles, the Ethiopians and Kenyans are considered to top in the world. Countless books and documentaries have been done on them. And one of the reasons they are so good at running is not so much their conditioning, or training or their physical attributes. It’s rest. They rest. A lot. They don’t work – they are taken in / subsidized by family and friends. So they run. Then they rest. That’s it. Rest is where muscles rebuild. Rest is where strength is constructed. Rest is where the mind empties and refocuses for the next task. Rest is where the real healing comes. One of the top runners refers to sleep as his “business meetings”. There is nobility in rest in some parts of the world. We don’t see it that way. And that’s a shift that I am learning to take.
Religions and spiritual leaders all speak of some sort of rest and respite. A time to (re)connect. A time to be with family or others. A time to pull the curtain on the world and be in solitude and peace. There is a reason for this and in our recovery, this is vital. We have strayed from our authentic self for so long, the only way to discover ourselves is in the times where we are just sitting with ourselves. In park, engine shut off. Sitting on the beach thinking of nothing and everything. Walking in the park. Watching the kids play. Playing Angry Birds (that’s just me.) Meditating. Staring at lighting in wonder. Doesn’t sound like something you’d put on a resume, but it’s important stuff. Critical to our sobriety.
It’s taken me time to enjoy and look forward to unstructured time. I do get caught up in the idea that every moment of my time needs to be formatted, allotted and planned. I do get my days where I will tell my wife “I did nothing today!”, in a fit, upset I didn’t get things done, and she will reply “Good!”. So she reminds me too that it’s okay not to be constantly busy. When I have my moments of nothing, I realize just how important they are. They are the water to the fire. The stillness to the maelstrom. The thought to the action. The answer to the question.
Look, if you’re new to this recovery thing, be forewarned – it is work. We have to shift our ways of perceiving the world, we have to move away from a lifestyle that once served us but no longer does, we have to do some self-examination as to why we reached for the bottle. We are shifting so many things – our physical, emotional, mental and spiritual lives. Some of us hit meetings, do service, read and write. Go to therapy. We meet with others, make phone calls, help other newcomers. But sometimes we need to put on the breaks – take time to be with ourselves, to lift our eyes towards the other things in life, to look at the big picture.
And as time passes, you will see that the holes that alcoholism once punched in our lives heal with some down time, time with our selves, time with the Universe. Like that injury to my leg, the best thing I could do was nothing. Time takes time, as they say, and those Whitman-like moments are the ones that will be stamped on my spirit, rather than the hectic day-to-day that tends to dominate me.
So for today – chillax. Slow down a bit. Take a moment to find something that brings a smile to your face. Breathe. Find that momentary oasis that will iron out the wrinkles of your day. It’s worth it.
It works if you don’t work it.