Sacred Idleness

I’ve persisted with yin yoga for the past year. It just seems like I need it. I hold each pose for 3-5 minutes in stillness, letting gravity do the work. The odd thing is that even though I find the practice sustains me, actually energizes and challenges me, I remember when I did much more active styles and wonder if I’m being lazy or slacking off in some way. 

I also lament that I’m “doing nothing” almost anytime I just read, take a nap, watch a television show, or just stand at the kitchen window marvelling at the sky, whether it is vibrant oranges like it was this morning or cloud filled grey.  Now, I don’t imagine all of these things as equal, however, at the end of the day I might ask myself, what did I do today?  None of these indulgences will make the list.

My friend, who has a striking ocean and mountain view from her front balcony, told me recently that her husband would sit in stillness in their back yard with his face toward the sky basking in the light of the day with his eyes closed. “That kind of drove me crazy,” she confessed.  I knew him as a man of uncompromising principles.

A few days ago I came upon the term, “sacred idleness.”

Certainly work is not always required of a man. There is such a thing as a sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected. Abraham, seated in his tent door in the heat of the day, would be to the philosophers of the nineteenth century an object for uplifted hands and pointed fingers. They would see in him only the indolent Arab, whom nothing but the foolish fancy that he saw his Maker in the distance, could rouse to run.       …near the end of Wilfrid Cumbermede by George MacDonald published 1872

Maybe I was drawn to “work not always required” since I struggle to define my work now that I don’t receive a pay cheque. And yet, since we moved here, I couldn’t tell you what many people I’ve met “do,” as in how they spend their time during the workday.  So, I don’t have need to lead with what I do either.

I do work steadily on the constant chatter in my head: the conversations I could have, the response I might engage, and yes, the things I could do to be kinder, more productive, and manage my life (and sometimes other people’s as well). The idea of sacred idleness, for me, might be when these voices are let go and I pay attention to observations and sensing rather than the life I’m fabricating.

Last week, Mitch and I searched out a small inlet in Sydney by the Sea, an idyllic twenty-minute drive from our house.  It was a cold and misty November day and we didn’t find enough shore to walk along very far.  We did stand still and keep a steady eye on a quintet of bundled up paddle boarders buoyed along by the higher tide toward us. They emerged round a bend of land in the distance, obscured by the dusky afternoon light and subtle rain. It was joyous to see them persist and imagine that possibility, when I’m braver; even as one said, “I can’t feel my feet,” as her rubber boots stepped from her board into the clear water’s edge. 

This week, my friend Liz and I walked through Mystic Vale. Yes, that’s the name of a forested ravine on University of Victoria grounds, a Douglas fir ecosystem trail that lives up to the name.   I particularly noticed the myriad of mosses during this rainy season and Liz was an astute observer of the tiny mushrooms on fallen trees. That’s the thing, this kind of gentle vision, without the need to talk too much, idles the noisy, self-conscious me that started out that morning.

When we imagine ourselves as part of the sacredness of everything, when we sense the loving goodness that surrounds us, we experience another kind of seeing.  Richard Wagamese reminds that our eyes deceive us.  There is a spiritual vision that comes, he says, “when we shut off our minds and use our senses.  When we touch, taste, hear, see and intuit the world around us.”  

Sacred idleness.  I believe it is the light shining on a face and wonder in the dark shadows of the drenched forest. It is in my joy at watching those who aren’t reluctant to venture into the cold water.  All of this idling in honour of and in calm surrender to the moment.    Doing nothing?

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