In a recent Facebook post, I conducted a poll by asking friends what they would do if they had just one day to do anything they liked.
The answers did not vary much: My friends would like to catch up on sleep and go to the spa for a massage.
Some would like to catch up on their reading, see a movie or binge watch their favorite tv series.
Exercise (or yoga) comes up more than once, as well. Some would go to the beach, go on a food trip or cook for their loved ones.
Yet another would love to tidy up her home, rearrange things and perhaps organize those she had been too busy to attend to.
One said she did not want to think of anything at all.
The question is relevant for those of us who, for five or six days a week, find ourselves bogged down by the things we have to do that we have neither time nor energy to do the things we want to do.
And increasingly now, in responding to the question what we want to do, the emerging answer seems to be... “nothing.”
I do not mean that there is no answer. I mean that the answer is “nothing.”
“Nothing”—“wala” in Tagalog—has been underrated for too long. We always believe all the spaces have to be filled, and that there has to be some agenda written on the blank spaces of our organizers.
Many think silence is not desirable—it has to be broken by music, or, infinitely worse, mindless chatter.
Weekends and holidays must be celebrated and spent outside, going to places, meeting people, cramming up so many things to do that “vacation” loses its essence and turns into hard work.
Those who do nothing are either boring or lazy, missing out on many things that life has to offer. The more successful people are those who have a full plate, live life to the fullest, and wear numerous hats.
These notions are dangerous as they are wrong.
An article published last year on the website Brainpickings.org talks about a book by the German philosopher Josef Pieper called Leisure, the Basis of Culture.
The author of the online article, Maria Popova, describes the book as “a magnificent manifesto for reclaiming human dignity in a culture of compulsive workaholicalism, triply timely today, in an age when we have commodified our aliveness so much to mistake making a living for having a life.”
I have not yet read the book but subscribe to the thinking that leisure—moments of unburdened contemplation, of absolute presence with the universe within one’s own mind and absolute attentiveness to life—is not the same as being devoid of activity.
A tragedy, according to Popova, that leisure is not seen as essential to the human spirit but a self-indulgent luxury reserved for the privileged or deplorable idleness reserved for the lazy.
But who’s being lazy? We wear ourselves out most days of the week that it is incomprehensible that we can go from day to day without needing a breather. That breather is leisure.
It’s waking up on Saturday morning and declaring to yourself and to everyone that today is going to be your “lazy day”—you will do exactly just the things you’d like to do, and nothing more.
Often, these are the most rewarding things we can think of: catching up on sleep, getting a massage, reading, tidying up, spending time with loved ones, conversing with friends.
In my case it is writing things that do not have a deadline, but are as compelling and urgent as today’s hottest news. And staring out the window, feeling small and insignificant and yet so alive amid the view.
I do not mean to say we should give in to the leisure of doing nothing all the time. We are adults—we have commitments to honor, reputations to uphold, bills to pay. But how busy we are does not define us.
It is, instead, in the few precious hours when we allow ourselves to do exactly what we feel like doing, whatever it is, that we are most alive.
Let’s be kind to ourselves and assert our claim to leisure reasonably regularly. It’s how we keep sane, and it’s how we create wonders.