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. Extending this across sectors, I have introduced this to other leaders through coaching, webinars and workshops and have had the fortune to help facilitate the likes of a European Executive Leaders programme, that specifically creates such sacred time.
Like delicious idleness, sacred idleness is the opposite of work. The difference is that it is less about laziness and more about learning. For it is a time of rest, restoration, rejuvenation and also of reflection. It nurtures us at a deeper level and develops our wisdom along the way. We don’t just stumble across it, but intentionally dedicate time for it. We honour and relish it through our attention to the present moment. Earnest in its purposefulness, yet it is more about suppleness and emptiness than control and activity.
As some of the leaders experienced on their mountain solo to reflect on the ‘leader they want to be’, it can be deliciously sweet and blissful. For others it felt anything but, at least at the start, for those not use 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 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.