Give Yourself Permission to Just Do Nothing!

Thomas Merton was a Catholic monk born in France who moved to Kentucky. He wrote over 60 books, encouraged inter-religious dialog with the likes of His Holiness The Dalai Lama, Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh, and others and advocated for pacifism and social justice. He died in 1968 in his early 50’s when he accidentally was electrocuted stepping out of his shower where a running fan had fallen over. (Some say he was assassinated by the CIA.) While I’ve not read his work, I’ve seen this quote below before. And it seems more relevant than ever in 2019.

“There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence to which the idealist most easily succumbs: activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace. It destroys the fruitfulness of our own work, because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.”

Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

Do Less Right Now, and Hurry Up!

Thomas Merton
Thomas Merton contemplating. Source: Goodreads, as above.

I live in the 11th biggest city in the United States, Austin, Texas. It has a lot of highs: temperatures, number of people moving here every day, amount of vehicular traffic on the streets and highways, and as I’ve been finding out lately, rent. With all that comes a high degree of stress. And do you ever notice how people say they’re “too busy,” like, all the time now? I don’t, but the stress of modern life has been getting to me lately, and it was time I practiced what I preached in previous posts. (Use the search box for the words “rest days.”)

This week on Tuesday I forgot about One Page Salon though I could have gone for part of it, skipped a Bike Austin meeting, didn’t attend the Thursday Night Social Ride even though it was focusing on remembering Jessica Saathoff, and tonight I bailed on a Writers League of Texas event. All because my got up and go got up and went. I just didn’t have the legs, or mental alertness to bike to those events. I could have bused or tried to borrow a car, but didn’t do that either. I admit to a little FOMO (Fear of Missing Out), but in the end, I’m simply relieved to not go.

A number of factors have lead up to this. Allergies from oak pollen, which leaves a visible yellow film on cars and things. Whatever’s going on with my knees that has led to less biking and therefore more stress. Not enough good quality sleep, even though I’m sleeping more. And the pressure of not having a place to live in a week. (I’m happy to report than my benefactors have offered a few weeks of reprieve, and I have one possible place, maybe two.) Maybe you can relate to your own version of stress.

Less Is More, How Do I Get Some?

Man napping in chair in Lefkara, Cyprus. Photo by Stephen Oliver on Unsplash

But Merton was right, it’s overcommitting that wears us down in modern life. Multi-tasking has been shown to be something humans aren’t very capable of doing well. I’m fortunate that I don’t have a spouse, kids or pets to worry about. But I do have plenty to deal with like everyone: paying bills, medical care, cooking, eating, sleeping, bathing, dressing, cleaning, transportation, participating in society through volunteering, keeping abreast of the news, answering emails, washing clothes, doing shopping, personal projects, and of course the daily walking, yoga, biking and writing this book and blog. I’m not complaining, mind you. But my body does seem to be telling me to slow down, take ‘er easy, Dude. Just Do Nothing!

So I took Monday off the bike and today I just went to a job fair, about 5 miles total. I had a headache and just wasn’t feeling it. I’m only at 50 miles biked for the week so far — half my goal. And I kinda don’t care. Sure, those events and people might have benefited a little from my presence. However, I’m certain the show went on without A Dude Abikes. So I’m going to make some dinner, put my feet up, and watch James Spader chew up his lines and the scenery on The Blacklist like it’s his last supper (and it looks like he has been following the eating plan of the Hobbits for a while now). Probably followed with a chaser of Blindspot and The Orville.

Maybe then an Epsom salt bath, some chamomile tea, and what may be a cure for my insomnia: reading a little in The Fat Chance Cookbook by Robert Lustig. His first book, Fat Chance, was great influence that took a few years but finally convinced me to try giving up processed grains (so far to no visible effect). But reading recipes is deadly boring and a terrific soporific, so maybe I’ll keep at it.

Live to Bike (Run, Swim, etc.) Another Day

I love the title of this section. Sam once told me to “Live to bike another day” when I was debating riding my seccond Bike Austin Armadillo Classic. I had hoped to do another century, aka 100 miles like I did in October 2016. But I was having a real problem with something, I don’t remember what. And it was cold and windy. So I skipped it. Until we can’t do what we want, tomorrow is another day. Is the world going to stop turning because we don’t kill ourselves trying to meet some arbitrary number of miles? No.

So I’ll sleep in, listen to KOOP 91.7 FM’s groovy The Lounge Show while having a leisurely brunch. Then maybe I’ll slowly get back on the horse of househunting, go through a few boxes for a garage sale, do some cleaning, some writing, other chores. But not at such a pace I’m going to burn out. If it’s not raining too hard, I may attend a community fair, go to Sun and Ski Sports to check out their tent sale, and put in some miles on the bike as my body allows. I’ll feel fresher for it, have a better attitude, and also be healthier and maybe even avoid getting sick and being forced to rest.

If you have the luxury of some time, I encourage you to do less, or nothing, too. When you’re ready, come back with more energy, a positive outlook, spring in your step and sparkle in your eye. The people around you, your body, mind and spirt will all thank you. You just have to give yourself permission.

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