This is a slightly different blog post. And it’s about making time for nothing.
No, not not making time for stuff. Making time for not stuff.
Sometimes, daily life feels like the sand in an hourglass that an impatient toddler is shaking; like a clock, whose hands are being forced forward by a grumpy watch-maker. When you check the time, it’s 10am; half an hour later, it’s 6pm. What? You say. Where did the day go?
This is why we say things like: It’s time-sensitive. Time is running out. That we don’t have much time. That time flies. Or, where did the time go?
But time doesn’t go anywhere. It doesn’t fly, either — or run, or run out, really.
Yet, time is the single most valuable thing in our lives. We are more careful about how we spend our time than we are about how we spend our money. Money, you can get back; time, you cannot.
In this world, “free time” is a bonus. It’s an advance you get on the hours left in the day. It’s credit, and you get to choose how you spend it: Pack the dishwasher; spend time with the kids; call your parents; get ahead on tomorrow’s work; build the IKEA chair you haven’t had time to assemble yet. It makes you want to show it off to other people, like a new watch or a new car.
Earning “free time” is a symbol of hard work — but only if you don’t have a lot of it. Too much “free time”, too often, and you’re not working hard enough. But, if you spend the rest of your time doing things well, or quickly, or both, then you earn “free time.” And then you get to spend that time on doing other things.
But, what if: Instead of trying to invest “free time” into other things — things that you think will generate more value — you cashed in your “free time” and did nothing? What if, instead of spending “free time” on more things, you spent it on yourself?
Not a spa day, or exercising, or meditating, or reading… Just spend time with yourself. Just do nothing. Just sit. Just be there, in that moment, with yourself. Notice things: Smells, sights, and feelings; thoughts, concerns, and itches.
Instead of trying to squeeze more stuff into “free time”, do more of nothing.
Nothing is expansive. It makes time slow down. When you do nothing, stuff happens less — less quickly, less intensely, less regularly. Also, stuff you didn’t notice before happens more: That bird next door becomes louder. The necklace your mother gave you becomes heavier.
But “free time” can steal things, too. It can take stuff that matters to you, if you’re not careful. Stuff you should notice, that you should confront, that you should make space for in daily life. It tells you to stay busy. “Use me!” It shouts. But that takes away the chance to notice the guilt you feel for not helping your friend move house. Or the anxiety you feel about having that conversation with your partner. It steals that awareness from you by replacing it with the promise of getting more done.
By trying to fill your “free time” with things to do, you feed it. You allow it to keep your blinkers on, your hands busy, and your mind distracted. You allow it to create noise, that’s just louder than the bird next door…
Make time for nothing, so that everything becomes a little clearer.
Photo by Keith Hardy on Unsplash