January 27, 2008

Just Do Nothing

Writing this blog has interrupted one of the most important things that I do all day. And sometimes I do it all day. I have sprung into action ruining all that I have worked so hard to attain. I have been trying to follow the advice of my newest guru, Arlo.

I recently heard an interview of Arlo Guthrie on XM Radio. If you came of age in the sixties, you have to love Arlo. He was one of the original smart and funny hippies and he wrote some great songs: Alice’s Restaurant, City of New Orleans and others. I even owned one of his albums. He had big hair – great hair. He still does, although now it is gray. Maybe that is why I like his so much. I have always envied good hair. And he chose to live in Massachusetts and still resides there. Most of the singer songwriters of that generation seem to have ended up in LA.

The interviewer asked Arlo a lot of the usual questions, and then he asked what I thought was a stupid question: “Do you have any hobbies?” What was this a job interview?

Anyway, Arlo answered quickly, “Yes,” and then was silent. We all waited for the answer but only silence followed. Silence on the radio is not good. The interviewer jumped back in and asked, “Would you like to share what they are?”

“Yes I would. I’m an expert at doing nothing. In fact, I have perfected the art of doing nothing. It’s not an easy thing to do. You won’t find anything on the internet about how to do it. But it is important because it sets the stage for doing something.”

So now I know what I have been doing all this time: I have been setting the stage. And all this time I thought that I was just doing nothing. This is good because it turns all my doing nothing into something important. My doing nothing is really getting ready. It has purpose. It has importance. It has been raised to an art form. I am feeling better about myself already.

By the way, Arlo was wrong about the internet. It has a lot of stuff about the art of doing nothing. Just google it. Zen Habits has a lengthy article about the art. But if you read it you will see that the author believes that it takes a lot of effort to do nothing. You have to do nothing just so.

I don’t agree. You don’t have to plan to do nothing. You can just fall into it. In fact, that may be the best way to access the art. Notice when you are wasting time: surfing the internet, staring out the window (my personal favorite,) reading a trashy novel, napping, watching Seinfeld episodes for the tenth time. All of this is doing nothing.

Don’t pick up an important piece of non-fiction. That would be much too active. Walking on the beach does not qualify. Floating in the pool does, but swimming in the pool does not. If you have to exert yourself, it’s out.

So get at it. Start doing nothing. And don’t put it off until you have time. If you need time for it, it will not qualify. Just say “Yes” and let the silence hang the air. Don’t rescue it. Just do nothing.


hankering said...

Looking forward to doing nothing as well.

Jim Hession said...


You need to practice before you arrive - we don't want any rookie mistakes!