Beware the barrenness of a busy life.
When was the last time you stared into space? Not the thousand-yard stare that comes with your inner circuitry being overloaded, but rather a time when you made the choice to simply be. No electronic devices, just you and your breath and whatever enters your field of vision and sound. For one moment or many moments.
This past Sunday, I did just that. I stared into space for approximately three entire minutes and felt more rebellious than I do when I’m performing with my punk band. What does that tell you/me/us about how we view downtime?
I propose that staring into space is a lost art and a radical statement in a culture that places so much value on production.
Imagine feeling so complete that you don’t need anything external. You don’t need to do anything. You don’t need to produce anything to justify how you spent your time. You can stare into space and be perfectly content. Really.
Like many of you, I grew up with notions of a direct relationship between productivity and personal worth. These messages were deeply ingrained and taught me that the more I produce the more worth I have as a human. They also taught me to judge the quality of my day by how much I got done. If I crossed things off the neverending to-do list, I’d get a gold star. If I didn’t, cue the guilt and shame over wasting the day.
Well, guess what. They stop handing out gold stars in 1st grade. Nevertheless, I fully swallowed that reward strategy and have butted up against it in various forms over the years. Gold stars morph into reviews, fundraising, the bottomless pit of social media likes and views, and accepting busyness and “the grind” as the new norm. What keeps us so busy? Why?
This past Sunday, I just sat there in my living room. It was exactly what I wanted to do. Oh, the voice was there. It chimed in with its predictable “What, you’re just gonna sit here and do nothing?” I gently replied, “Yes.” I made the choice to be rather than to do. To nourish my brain by giving it a break. I didn’t hear from the voice again.
Prioritizing downtime doesn’t mean that my productivity comes to a screeching halt. It doesn’t mean I’ve given up on creating things or that I’ve let my personal and social life fall to ruin. Quite the opposite. I’m simply being very choosy about what I let in and where I put my energy. For me, being stuck in the perpetual motion machine feels like its own form of entropy where I expend a ton of energy but never actually get anywhere. I’d rather focus on one task for fifteen minutes than multitask at nothing for six hours.
These days I find myself saying “Yes” frequently, but in a very different way than I used to. Yes to getting more sleep. Yes to extended breaks from my electronic devices. Yes to cooking for myself. Yes to meditation, journaling and exercise. Yes to staying home as much as I want. Yes, yes, yes. These choices weren’t always gold-star worthy — but they sure are now.
At the moment I’m choosing to honor the natural ebbs and flows of the creative process and of life itself. The days are shorter and the garden is done for this year. I’m OK with being the methodical tortoise. I’m OK with taking time to stare into space if I feel like it. I’m OK with clearing space for whatever is coming next, because I want to be ready when it does.
I’d love to hear from you, Soapboxers! Please drop us a line at email@example.com and tell us all about your adventures in downtime.
‘Til next time,
Mara Thomas is a Durham-based playwright, actor, musician and teaching artist. Her newest play, YEAR OF THE MONKEY, will be produced by Delta Boys Theater Company at The Fruit in Durham in June 2020. A local musician for over 15 years, Mara currently makes noise in the punk group Cold Cream. She is also part of the Soapbox Audio Collective, currently at work on the serial audio drama Jesus Pancake.
Blog posts and podcast episode about the Creative Accountability Group:
- Take your work seriously: put Creative Resistance on notice!
- Better together. A Creative Accountability Group debrief with Mara and Tamara
- Ask WHY to create opportunities for compassion
- Map your dreams
Blog posts about creativity resources:
- Cleaning house: Making space for creativity
- Nourish your creative self: Give your creative self a lift with something beautiful
- The importance of physical practice: Get out of your head and into your body (And here’s another)
- Community Building
- Preparing for a Creative Residency
- The gifts of loneliness
- Go with the flow
Blog posts about creative obstructions that present themselves when you’re on your creative path.
- Imposter Syndrome: Who do I think I am? Why even try?
- Perfectionism: I’m so afraid that my creation will not be perfect that I never actually do it. And another one about perfectionism!
- Comparison: I’ll never be as good as that person. I should probably quit.
- Distraction: I’ve convinced myself that all these other things have priority over my creativity.
- The Creative Vacuum: How do I cope with the after-the-big-project-time?