“The transition from tenseness, self-responsibility, and worry, to equanimity, receptivity, and peace, is the most wonderful of all those shiftings of inner equilibrium . . . and the chief wonder of it is that it so often comes about, not by doing, but by simply relaxing and throwing the burden down.” —William James
Today we’re packing for a week at our family’s place on the Maine coast. Besides lots of local produce, bottles of wine, a small boat and fishing gear, we’re taking our writing projects. M. will try to finish his novel and I’m revising a book-length collection of poems, as well as new work.
The plan: stare at the ocean, eat well, read, write, walk, fish, sleep. I may pull some weeds. We usually don’t drive anywhere except to pick up groceries. When we’re there (as at home) we don’t watch any television. There’s no wifi. We rarely get calls and leave the emails to accumulate without us. Easier than you may think. The body and mind likes this rhythm. It’s just that it feels like vacation; every body likes that. It’s the fact that we intentionally quiet ourselves, do less, slow way down. And because we wake up each day and often write, our state of being is not contingent on “not working,” per se. And yet we don’t “do”, exactly, either.
I must say, we don’t miss the activity or stimulation or eventfulness of a life with more in it than the basics. Of course, life on the coast is not entirely basic. The ocean’s right there: riveting, calming, sublime, and it’s as though the sounds of those waves, the quality of light, the constancy and vastness, scours us clean and purifies us of the distractions and irritations that accumulate in the course of a workaday life. We are happy. We sleep splendidly. We do what we want and feel the sufficiency of time. We know we are terribly lucky to have created a life that allows for this mode of being.
I know that “not doing” is a challenge for many, and it used to be much harder for me too. As I sign off for the week, I’ll share this passage from my morning (re)reading:
“To do nothing at all is the most difficult thing in the world, the most difficult and the most intellectual . . . [The] contemplative life, the life that has for its aim not doing but being merely, becoming—this is what the critical spirit can give us. The gods live thus.” Oscar Wilde, quoted in The World Enough and Time: On Creativity and Slowing Down, by Christian McEwen
See you in September.
“The danger of civilization is that you will piss away your life on nonsense”- Jim Harrison