Visiting friends Ian and Luis this week, in their oasis of peace between the mountains and sea in Asturias, northern Spain, we sat in their garden discussing doing nothing.
Luis observed that after about 15 minutes of sitting still with his cats in the garden, things started to happen. Nature would become happy with his calm presence, and birds that usually fled from human presence would return to the garden, he would get a keen sense of the weather from watching the sky. Ian mentioned how with time to stop and look at the mountain ridges towering in the distance, you might see the cloud flowing slowly and magnificently off the ridges like water.
All you need is time to stop, not turn on the iPod or iPad, not even reach for a book, just to stop and look. I tried it later that night when I got back to our accommodation in a quiet Asturian village. Sitting outside the front door of our house, with nothing to do, after a few minutes I noticed plants I’d never seen, the red in the leaves on a nearby wall, I saw how a vine had climbed quite amazingly almost to the very top of a pine tree that was twice as high as the house beneath it.
I felt quite delighted by all the things I’d never noticed before.
All this reminded me of a quote from the wonderous Walden, by Henry David Thoreau:
“I did not read books the first summer; I hoed beans. Nay, I often did better than this. There were times when I could not afford to sacrifice the bloom of the present moment to any work, whether of the head or hands. I love a broad margin to my life. Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sing around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew in those seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but so much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mine; it was morning, and lo, now it is evening, and nothing memorable is accomplished. Instead of singing like the birds, I silently smiled at my incessant good fortune. As the sparrow had its trill, sitting on the hickory before my door, so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest. My days were not days of the week, bearing the stamp of any heathen deity, nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that “for yesterday, today, and tomorrow they have only one word, and they express the variety of meaning by pointing backward for yesterday forward for tomorrow, and overhead for the passing day.” This was sheer idleness to my fellow-townsmen, no doubt; but if the birds and flowers had tried me by their standard, I should not have been found wanting. A man must find his occasions in himself, it is true. The natural day is very calm, and will hardly reprove his indolence.” From Chapter 4 – Sounds, in Walden, by Henry David Thoreau.