The Art of Doing Nothing

Marsha Gomes-Mckee

A few years ago I worked from 7 to 5… I came home and took care of my daughter and the house. On weekends I managed a tight schedule of volunteering, hobbies, housework, visits to parents and siblings and preparation for the next week.

My personal diary was impressive with different colored ink and notations on each page. I never left home without it. A successful day was a day where everything got ticked off. I must confess I never had to take care of my husband. I married him because he was self-sufficient among other things.

One Saturday my diary was extra full. I cooked, washed, and needed to clean before mid-day but to my dismay instead of getting out of my way like they usually did my family confiscated the living room. My four-year-old was being taught to hit or throw something on my husband’s new Play Station and they were having the time of their lives. However, it was not time of your life time. It was cleaning time. Because they ignored me, I threatened and complained and spoiled the moment. After making everything perfect, no one was interested in living in the living room anymore they had already moved outdoors.

So it began my deep soul searching into happiness. How was it that they could relax? How did my husband come home and do nothing for so long? I could understand a four-year-old but not him. When he left everything was last minute, he was notoriously late and forgot where he left his keys every single day. It became our ritual. He asked, have you seen my keys? I responded “No” and then ignored him until he found them.

A scientist at heart I made a proposition and predicted an outcome in my life. I planned and prepared and then waited to reap my happiness. Instead I was the busiest person in my house and had more arguments over ‘nothing’ than I could count. How did I measure happiness? I could start by counting the number of times I laugh per day, I set my bar at ten. My daughter soon met the target, my husband reached it too but I wasn’t meeting quota, so I researched, I read books and I talked to friends.

One afternoon I listened to Winnie the Pooh, as I busied myself, the conversation I overheard went something like this:
Christopher Robin said: “What I like most of all is to do nothing.”
Winnie the Pooh replied: “How do you just do nothing.”
Christopher Robin said: “Well, when a grown-up asks: “What are you doing?”, you say; “Nothing,” and then you go out and do it.”
Winnie the Pooh replied: “I like that, let’s do that all the time.”

Unlike Winnie the Pooh I didn’t want company; my day was already filled with too many voices. What I needed, no what I craved, was not just to do nothing but to do it alone.
That night I put aside half an hour and decided to do nothing by myself. It was the most frustrating two hours of my life. Doing nothing was by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was more of a self-imposed time-out. I kept doing things and adding back the time, then starting over and then remembering I had something else to do and at the end of two hours I went to bed. Maybe doing nothing wasn’t as easy as it looked.

After watching my husband and daughter for yet another week I made up some rules to my “doing nothing ambition.”
1. Sleeping time didn’t count. Scheduling deep soul searching time before bed, in my bed was the recipe for sleep.
2. Eating time didn’t count because I rarely ate alone. Woman are notorious for multi-tasking. If you put lunch and quiet time together you’d think you’d get to do two things at once. No. That’s just cheating.
3. Driving time didn’t count. Just because you spend hours in traffic daily does not mean that you get to call it me time. Keep your eyes on the road.

The list went on and on…

My first real escape was at a mall. I was in a line at a fast-food restaurant waiting for an order that contained nothing I wanted to eat, while my husband and daughter warmed the seat. It occurred to me that for the next hour I would sit and watch my husband and daughter eat. My eyes glanced over the courtyard to one of my favorite clothing stores. It was the reason I came, I needed a new outfit for an upcoming event. In essence what would normally happen would be I’d watch them eat then I’d take a grabby four-year-old and reluctant husband, who remembered the minute he entered the store that he needed to buy something else, anything else, as long as it wasn’t in a ladies’ shop. I would be left with my daughter. Oh how she took the joy out of shopping. Did I dare?

I walked over to them with the food ominously and didn’t sit down. They looked at me expectantly – those two wonderful blessings how could I be thinking of deserting them during family time. I had to break to the news though, “I am going to look for the dress.” I said with eyes downcast.

They shrugged and took the food. They were busy dressing fries.

I waited.

“If we come out before you do, we’ll be in the Park,” my husband grinned he was apparently happy at my news.

I walked away with a heavy heart and look back at them without me.

That day shopping was utter freedom. I moved through the racks and took my time. I tried on dresses and got friendly with the staff. I didn’t have to find anyone hiding in a clothing rack or share the dressing room with a little voice that yelled out body parts. I laughed openly and felt renewed.

I found my blessings as promised in the Park having fun. They didn’t look worse for wear and my absence didn’t leave a crater in their psychological development. We were still intact. I was able to walk out of a store in good spirits, my daughter got extra time in the Park and my husband perfected his art form of doing nothing from a park bench. I joined him.

Therein began my resolve to perfect the art-form as well.

I have read over twenty books this year. I sit back and devour them. I plan family time and alone time and I am never embarrassed to say I can’t make it. I plan on doing nothing today.


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