My Day of Doing “Nothing”

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:

Table

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.

Comments (9)

  1. Allen Taylor

    Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

    Allen Taylor

    Reply
  2. Darren

    That picture is ridiculous!

    I’m glad you’re chilling out a bit. During the workday at the newspaper, I would often have to be the one to drag people out to the coffee shop for fifteen minutes. Yeah, that’s 15 minutes of lost productivity, but when we get back, we’re all refreshed and more clear-headed and way more productive.

    Keep on nappin’ in the free world!

    Reply
  3. Gillie

    Good for you! I so know the feeling– that guilt for not being productive every minute of the day. Days like this are so necessary, though. A semi-crappy J. Lo movie and some Google Talk can do wonders for your mental health. Today is my last before I start the new job, and all I’ve done is watch “Lost” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” It’s almost 1 p.m. and I am still in my PJs :)

    Reply
  4. Renee Gasch

    I’m so proud of you! You’re practicing one of my favorite principles touted by Taoist sages: the art of Wu Wei or non action. (Check out the wiki sage for more on Wu Wei :) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wu_wei) Your entry goes to show that we all have many selves. The self is not fixed. It changes, it tries new things, sometimes it does nothing, and sometimes it doesn’t even recognize itself. That’s the beauty of our “selves,” they’re continually a mystery just waiting to be discovered. And how fun is that!!! Okay, that’s all the wisdom I got sista.

    Reply
  5. Colette Hayes

    LOVE the picture!! And I can totally relate. I said “no” to an all-nighter recently. Some deadlines are non-consequential, and I’m learning to discern them.

    Reply
  6. Margaret Pinard

    Thought this was appropriate to contribute… from Real Simple’s Daily Thoughts, but really from “Melia’s People”–Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of non-essentials.
    — Lin Yutang

    Reply
  7. Lauren Hauser

    Melia,
    I really love this post. I think it’s so intuitive and interesting and funny. Am I the one watching Dancing with the Stars? Great show. ha, anyway, you are a very smart person. You should come to yoga with me. I swear to god , Beth’s classes have revolutionized my life. xo

    Reply
  8. Shannon

    You are amazing. This completely knocked my socks off. Your way with words is exquisite. I have as yet to even make a dent in that ephemeral dream of pleasure without guilt. Playing Reel Fishing on Playstation? Shouldn’t you be reading about Jihad or white privilege or, I don’t know, doing that mountain of dishes in the sink? Nah, I’ll just watch political videos on Jibjab – then I’ll trick myself into thinking I was doing something worthwhile…and then feel guilty when I realized an hour has passed. I’d ask you for advice on how to put it all into perspective, but, alas, you were writing until 3 a.m. last night. Maybe someday we’ll have it all figured out. Or maybe o’dark hundred is when magic happens.

    Reply
  9. Shannon

    Oh, and this picture is the freaking cutest thing I’ve ever seen. LOVE IT!

    Reply

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