The sweetness of doing nothing

There is something that is quite magic and something that we Brits hardly ever do, it is what the Italians call ‘The art of doing nothing’ or ‘La Dolce Far Niente’ literally translated as “the sweetness of doing nothing”.  

I learned about this concept while watching Elizabeth Gilbert’s masterpiece- Eat, Pray, Love, the other day. The scene is set in a barbershop in Rome. Julia and her new found friend are scarfing down napoleon’s while the men of Italy are educating them on the ways of the Italian.

As one of the male characters begins his diatribe about how Americans’ ideas of “relaxing,” are working themselves to the bone all week just so they can lay around in their pyjamas on weekends, drink six packs of miller light, and watch other people live their lives on TV- he presents to the audience the concept of la dolce far niente, or the sweetness of doing nothing.”   


Now, I spend my entire life doing things. It is the joke about I have given up being a human being in favour of becoming a human doing. I work silly hours, my choice, but when I stop working there is always a list of things that need to be done. If I ever get to the point where the list has been completed then out comes another set of things that need to be done.

The only real time that I ever get to stop is when we go away so that there is nothing that can really be done. A few weeks ago we went away to the Cotswolds, a lovely place, and we actually managed to stop, I mean really stop. We actually spent an afternoon in front of the fire, it was not lit as it was too hot, and we read books. Now I am not sure if reading counts as doing nothing, I guess that it is doing something but to my busy brain it is as good as doing nothing.

I meditate and in meditation, which is really quite an active process, we do stop the external stimulus and enjoy the half hour or the hour when ‘nobody wants anything and nobody needs anything’. In most people’s lives even these small amounts of time might appear to be too much to ask for. When you are raising kids and doing hectic jobs it can often feel that the idea of simply being is a long way off.

We can become our own worst enemy. Often it can feel like everyone wants something and that we are unable to simply say ‘no’. How often do we get to end of a weekend and realise that we have been busy, busy, busy for other people. Where are those long sunny afternoons spent siting in the garden, in the sun, just kicking back and enjoying the art of just being? Listening to the birds, or the sea, the wind, to even the kids playing.

The funny thing is the more things that we have, the more that we posses then the more we are required to look after it. I have owned several big houses. In the beginning it feels that the house was there for us. Then it becomes more that we are there for the house. It needs forever painting and repairing. I had one house with an acre of lawns. Great to look at but a pain to cut. In the summer the cutting was once a week. These days we live more modestly – praise the Lord – but there is still that never ending list of chores to be done and people to be seen, functions to attend and problems to be solved.

In life there will always be things that need to be done and some of these cannot be put off and will require our immediate attention. But as my wise old mother once said ‘you are a long time dead’. We need to enjoy the journey so that we can arrive at life’s end with a smile on our face. No one ever gets a prize fo being the person in the grave yard who did the most work or completed the most jobs.

So, if you can, in these summer months try to kick back a bit. Learn once again to be still and enjoy the moment. The art of simply being is the mindful art of living in the present. Or, the art of doing nothing’ or ‘La Dolce Far Niente’    “the sweetness of doing nothing”.  

Be happy (not do happy)

Sean x

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