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.
I first came across the term through my work with physicians from Epstein’s ideas on encouraging 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.
Like delicious idleness, it is the opposite of work. The difference is it is less about laziness and more about learning.
It is a time of rest, restoration and rejuvenation but also of reflection.
We don’t just stumble across it, we intentionally dedicate time for it, honour it and relish it.
It nurtures us at a deeper level and develops our wisdom along the way.
It is earnest, but also allowing; it is purposeful yet it is when suppleness and emptiness are more important than activity and focus.
It is when we are fully aware, alert and present in the moment.
It can be deliciously sweet and blissful, but it can also taste sour and feel anything but blissful, at least at the start, when you are not use to not-doing, or contemplating who you are and what you do.
It 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 the nothingness and the everythingness...
It may involve retreating to the mountains, to meditate or to trek quietly 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 the year that has been and what you want to take forward into the new year.
Or it may just be a dedicated 10 minutes by yourself, out in the garden or in your favourite spot in the house, 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.
May you gift yourself sacred idleness this festive season, and carry on the practice as an ongoing commitment to your health and wellbeing.
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.
Image: own photo of my beautiful sister Hannah, Queenstown NZ.