Delicious idleness: the well known Italian expression and concept of “dolce far niente”. We know it as the sweetness, pleasure and carefree feeling of doing nothing; the enjoyment of sheer indulgent relaxation and blissful laziness.
And then there’s Sacred Idleness, perhaps its more serious cousin.
Epstein used the term to encourage medical practitioners to take time out, in order to cultivate habits of mind, such as attentiveness, curiosity and presence, in order to enhance their own wellbeing and effective medical practice. I know through introducing the concept to leaders across sectors, that they intuitively recognize that it is critical for their resilience and evolution. And they know this idleness takes some work.
It is the work of learning. And in particularly of learning to let go. We don’t just stumble across it, but intentionally dedicate time for it. A time of rest, restoration, rejuvenation and also of reflection. It nurtures us and develops our wisdom along the way. We honour and relish it through our attention to the present moment. It is earnest in its purposefulness and yet is more about suppleness and emptiness than control and activity. We set off with an intention and are open hearted and open minded to what emerges from the not-doing.
As some leaders experience on the mountain solo we run, to be idle in this way, can be deliciously sweet and blissful. For others it can feel anything but, at least at the start, especially for those not used to not-doing, or contemplating who they are and what they do.
Sacred Idleness can take various forms; there is no prescription. It depends on every individual and their situation but it is about being fully with yourself in stillness embracing it all – whatever arises.
It may involve retreating to the mountains, to gain perspective in the glory of nature.
It may involve sitting silently in front of the fire, encompassed by its warmth and security, seeing the reflection of your mind in the changing, dancing flames.
It may be lounging on a chair, feeling the sensations of the sun and sea air on your skin, reflecting on what has past and what you would like to manifest.
It may be hanging out at your favourite spot to contemplate the big questions in your life.
It may be to meditate and give gratitude to all who and what you love.
It may just be a dedicated 10 minutes by yourself between dinner courses or between juggling demands of the dog, children and relations, to not only ‘catch your breath’, but to sit there with it.
So may you gift yourself sacred idleness this festive season, and carry on the practice as an ongoing commitment to your health and wellbeing into the new year and decade.
And may you gift yourself delicious idleness for the same reasons.
Festive cheers to all.
A term coined by George MacDonald as quoted in Poor Man's College Quotations, 1994. in Epstein, R.M. (2003b) “Mindful Practice in Action (II): Cultivating Habits of Mind”, Families, Systems & Health, 21(1): 11-17.
This has become a regular festive season post since 2012. In 2017 a version was also featured on Impact's blog https://www.impactinternational.com/blog/2017/12/sacred-festive-idleness.