Thursday, December 13, 2018

Reset and Resource: Sacred and Delicious Idleness

If we are talking about resetting and resourcing, the festive season provides the ideal occasion for us to do exactly that.   If not ideal, it can certainly be that time of the year when we need it the most.

Cue for some delicious and sacred idleness…. 

If you know something about Italy, you would have come across the expression and concept of ”dolce far niente”, delicious idleness.  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 well-being and effective medical practice.  

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.  It is earnest in its purposefulness and yet is more about suppleness and emptiness than control and activity.

As some leaders experience when we ask them to reflect on themselves, such as ‘the leader they want to be’, it 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 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 relaxing in your favourite spot,  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 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.

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    

Photo own of a favourite spot

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