If you have been following my blog for a little while, you know that I am a big fan of doing nothing. As a compulsive ‘doer’, I like to carve out time to just let myself be. Not to meditate. No to read. Not to do anything other than simply exist. I have practiced doing nothing for a while now, whenever I have a spare few hours. And I shared my tips on how to do nothing on my blog. But recently I was inspired to take this doing nothing a little further. I turned off all my electronics on Friday evening and did not turn them on again until Monday morning. What was supposed to be a weekend of quiet reflection and stillness brought me back to my beloved childhood activity of pottering about. Let me tell you what happened.
The inspiration that started it all
It all started with an On Being podcast episode with Pico Iyer. The episode explored the urgency of living slow. Iyer is an essayist and novelist who lives in rural Japan. He rarely used electronics by his own account and lives a simple and slow life. In fact, Iyer spends several hours a day doing nothing just to flex his creative muscle. Of course, this type of lifestyle is not sustainable for those of us who are not living of the royalties of previous book publications. But Iyer also offered another possibility during the podcast episode. He mentioned that a few of his friends will switch off all electronics during the weekend. That way they slow down their pace of life at least a few days a week. They fit in the slow wherever is practical and sustainable. Inspired by this practice, I switched off my electronics for a full weekend last December.
An old childhood friend
On Saturday morning I woke and ‘executed’ my ideal morning routine. I worked out, stretched, meditated, journaled and had a slow and mindful breakfast. Then I picked up a book and read for a bit. I savoured the moment and stared out the window a lot. I had nowhere to go and no one to be. And then it happened… I got up and started pottering. A practice I am so familiar with but had long put behind me as frivolous and pointless. When I was a child, I could spend entire days pottering around my room. I would rearrange my belongings, nip in and out of my books, sort through the rubble and move about my space. There was no rhyme and reason to my activity and no purpose. I would simply be active in a room full of wonderful things to (re-)discover.
I wonder what ever made me stop pottering. For all its positive effects, I think the spiritual and self-help movements are to blame. As I increased my understanding of different mindfulness techniques, I started to abandon those that had come most natural to me as a child. Pottering about was replaced with meditation and yoga. Even doing absolutely nothing had to become a structured affair with a clear purpose (of unwinding). My natural urge to potter was repressed to the area of my mind that holds my memories. And this is a shame, since pottering is not only deeply familiar to me, but also carries some significant health benefits. Besides being a great way to unwind, researchers have found that the low level of activity brought about by pottering around reduces the build-up of fat around the arteries. This health benefit cannot be replaced by an actual workout. Sitting all day cannot be offset by 60-minute HIIT class. Learning about this fact in preparation for this post cemented my belief that pottering holds some beneficial goodness.
And so, I have started pottering once more. Drawers have become treasure chests to explore. Books have become magazines to flip through. Life has been drawn into the present moment not by some recommended spiritual practice, but by simply turning my focus on what is right on front of me.
Have you ever pottered?