I am writing from the same couch where you could have found me over 24 hours ago, wearing the same pajamas. I haven’t showered or put in my contact lenses, and I have crossed off a grand total of one item — a brief phone call — from my Saturday To-Do list.
To my usual self, it would appear that I have done nothing today. My usual self would be annoyed about all the items left for tomorrow. It would sigh and fret over the opportunities missed by spending a full day vegging out. My enlightened self, on the other hand, that fleeting self that I’m always chasing, knows that I’ve accomplished a lot more in my day of doing nothing than one would think.
If it weren’t for my throbbing headache, the one that has stayed with me on and off for days, I would have gone through with the day’s agenda. I would have walked over to the Carnaval parade before going to the bank, two grocery stores, and the gym. I would have done the sinkful of dirty dishes and vacuumed the rug, then would have driven an hour to a friend’s graduation party. I might have then stopped by another friend’s birthday at a beach located an hour in the other direction before driving home. But my headache kept me glued to the couch, too exhausted even to get up and brush my teeth.
I almost never get headaches, but for the past couple of months a potpourri of health issues has started cropping up, practically a new one each day. It’s like the menu du jour in hell: “What’ll it be today: the cracked lips or the numb toes?” I know that I’d be healthy if I could just listen to my body’s needs, sleeping when I’m tired and exercising when I’m restless instead of pushing through physical fatigue in order to do more. I pulled an all-nighter last Wednesday to complete a copywriting assignment, and at 5 a.m. the anxious tightness in my chest that has been growing for months screamed at me, “You need to stop and breathe!” But I could not take a full breath, and being on deadline, I ignored my body’s warning signals and soldiered on.
I’ve been this way since I was little, not wanting to miss out on anything, trying to cram as much activity into a day as humanly possible. My mom loves to remind me of how, as a toddler at naptime, I’d tell her, “I’m not tired! I don’t want a nap! I—” and fall asleep mid-sentence. There’s even a photograph of me (see above) reading two books at once with a bottle dangling from my mouth, eyes at half-mast, my mind fighting off the sleep my body knows it needs.
I have been trashing my body in this way for months now, perhaps even years, while unreasonably expecting it to be there when I need it. And let’s be honest here, I kinda need it all the time. If I want to do anything on my to-do list, my body needs to be humming along well enough to get me there. I’ve always thought of myself as more centered in my head than in my body, viewing the two as separate entities. A friend describes this attitude as “seeing your body as a vehicle to tour your brain around town.” I think that my people (as I like to call the Chinese) may be on to something with all their talk about mind, body, and spirit being one.
Today I began listening to my body, instead of offering it a nice warm glass of shut the hell up. As a result, I did a few things that I haven’t allowed myself to do in many moons. Here’s a chart of what I accomplished today, and what my usual self and enlightened self would have to say about it:
My usual self normally disdains any activity that lacks a clear outcome by thinking, “You want to invest your precious time doing WHAT?” On weekends, while my roommates eat popcorn and watch Dancing with the Stars, I make work calls from my bedroom or run errands. When people ask me, “Have you seen <insert any movie made after 2005>?” I shake my head no, since I never seem to have two hours to spare. Thankfully, this will change in a month, after I leave my job. One of my top priorities is to remember how to watch a movie without thinking the whole time that I should be doing something more productive. I’ve realized that if I get hit by a bus tomorrow (I’m safe for today, still planted on the couch in my PJs) I would rather have spent my final hours watching a Top Chef marathon with my roomies than doing laundry alone.
Why do nothing? Because the body needs to decompress in order to tackle that list of somethings; the vehicle that tours your brain around town needs regular maintenance. Because “nothing” may surprise you by enhancing the quality of your life (consider this: you might actually become a secret fan of J. Lo). And most importantly, and this must not be underestimated, because doing nothing is FUN.