Some years ago one of our UK Bishops wrote a book called Do Nothing, Christmas is Coming, a catchy title for this time of year when, although in the church we are trying really hard to slow down, take stock and reflect on the sombre Advent themes (death, and judgment, heaven and hell, in case you ask) really we’re as tempted as anyone else to engage in an all out tinselly scramble towards Christmas.
And this is despite it’s being only 1 December.
Words associated with this scramble towards Christmas (words used by clergy as much as anyone else) include: ‘mad’, ‘bonkers’, and ‘manic’ (I really object to the latter – there are enough people in the world suffering from something truly manic, in mental health terms).
What does it mean, in contrast, to do nothing? Is it really possible at all?
Partly I blame adrenaline for the difficulty of stopping and doing nothing (at my stage of life I’m blaming hormones for most things, but maybe I too am adopting emotive language – how can a hormone really be blamed for any human reaction?)
November brought me fresh energy (after a lousy October) and a lot of this was due to adrenaline – bad at bed time, good when you need to a) focus throughout a two hour meeting on the latest minute Government edicts on primary education and 2) listen to a friend talk for 1.5 hours about how tough life is, and 3) drive safely across town in the rush hour (all on the same day, that is).
So thank you, adrenaline. See how busy and useful you make me.
But doing nothing? How can that be an honourable human occupation?
The point of the bishop’s book was that when we rush through December without taking in the waiting of Advent, we can’t cherish the coming of Christ when it eventually arrives. Rush through December focussing on 25th, and everything is reduced to a tick list.
Notably, a journalist who’d read his other ‘do nothing’ book (Do Nothing to change your life, 2009) who was also a single parent bringing up a teenager, felt doing nothing was a particularly male perspective. She’d tried the bishop’s advice and discovered that if she did nothing, literally everything in her household ground to a halt.
But gender aside, doing nothing, even for a few short minutes each day, sat on the sofa with a cup of tea and mindfully winding down for a period, might just be the most important thing you ‘do’ each day.
But what exactly do you do, when you ‘do nothing’?
I recall an article by Times columnist, Caitlin Moran, years ago, before anyone was talking about mindfulness; I cut it out because it was so clever, and pinned it up in our kitchen. She’d just asked a friend casually, ‘what have you got on this week?’ Anticipating her friend would reply with a long list of exhausting (and therefore worthy) things she was doing in her busy/successful life, the friend simply answered ‘Oh, nothing really’.
Moran was completely floored. She didn’t know whether to laugh or be outraged. What kind of a human being admits to having nothing on, to being, effectively, IDLE?
But maybe (Moran mused, because she’s clever like that), maybe her friend was on to something. Maybe doing nothing would actually make her friend, in the long run, calmer, more chilled, more able to engage with others, more creative, even more productive.
What a thought.
As Advent begins (NB. we’re not quite there yet, in the Church; though it’s December 1st today and Advent candle/calendar time, we’re starting Advent PROPER this Sunday, 3rd December, Advent Sunday. Because we like to do things SLOWLY. And liturgically. Just saying)…
As Advent begins, I will be doing a little bit of nothing each day, same time, same place. A little bit of nothing to prepare for Christmas. But really, my nothing will be something. Because when I’m doing my nothing, it will actually be this:
Breathing; being attentive; being grateful; praying; dreaming; contemplating; planning; trying to stop myself planning; breathing; relaxing; breathing, being. Being.