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Claiming the Empty Spaces
By Marlene Lockwood
"What is this life if, full of care, The Importance of Idle Time in a Fast-Forward World
We have no time to stand and stare."
—W. H. Davies
just about to leave for your dentist appointment, when you receive a
phone call saying the dentist has been called out on emergency and will
have to reschedule your appointment. Congratulations! You are the
winner of one unexpected free hour!
What will you do with your
winnings? Answer your email? Return to the project you were working on
before you had to leave? Pay bills? Return phone calls? Ever consider
If you're like many of us today, the thought of
doing absolutely nothing for an entire hour seems as wasteful as
throwing a week's worth of groceries out with the garbage. Indeed, free
time with nothing to do can generate near panic among some of us who
are overloaded and time-starved.
"We seem to have a complex
about busyness in our culture," says Thomas Moore, author of Care of
the Soul. "Most of us do have time in our days that we could devote to
simple relaxation, but we convince ourselves that we don't."
yet, the harder we push, the more we need to replenish ourselves. As
Stephan Rechtschaffen, author of Timeshifting, says, "Each of us needs
some time that is strictly and entirely our own, and we should
experience it daily."
The importance of this downtime cannot be
overstated. We see more clearly, we hear more keenly, we're more
inspired, we discover what makes us feel alive.
On some level,
we know this already. But claiming time to ourselves—time that is often
labeled "unproductive"—and sticking to it can be difficult. We need to
establish formal boundaries around our idle time to ensure that
others—and we, ourselves—honor this time.
Some ways to do this are:
• Make a date with yourself. Get to know someone who deserves your attention‚ —you.
Stand firm. Learn how to say "no" to co-workers, children, a
spouse or a friend. In just a short while, you can say "yes," but now
is your time.
• Be clear about your needs. It's not, "I need more time to myself." It's more like, "I'd like to
spend 20 minutes by myself in the morning before everyone gets up."
Be on the lookout for stolen moments. Use the canceled dental
appointment to sit on a park bench watching pigeons.
Practice doing nothing. "Doing nothing" is an art, and like all
art you need to practice it to reach your highest potential.
we define idle time varies by individual. For example, for one person,
gardening may be meditative downtime, whereas for another, it is one
more item on the to-do list (to be done as quickly as possible). The
woods is a great place to stroll through for one person, an opportunity
to be in and with nature; for another, it's a great place for a power
walk while dictating letters into a small tape recorder.
idle time should be like a beautiful flower: it has no purpose. It's
just there. And yet, it refreshes us and reminds us of nature's glory.
something that has no purpose other than joy. Take a half-hour a day to
surprise and delight yourself. Keep it simple, and keep it consistent. If your idle time becomes a "program," or becomes progress toward some
productive goal, begin again.
It's stunning, how simple it really is. Enjoy an hour for yourself this week.
Coach Marlene Lockwood helps individuals and groups navigate through
life change and transition with more ease, increased balance, enhanced
inner peace and improved creativity and vitality.
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