The Art Of Doing Nothing, Blissfully

I’m lying out back on the Fourth of July. I’ve chosen a white wicker settee, too small really, so that my feet are up in the air and my head is down on the pillow.

It’s quite a silly position but oddly comfortable. The sun showers me, filtering through the silver maples in my backyard. My sunbathing spot is on the redwood deck out back, something I love best about this house.

I lie there in the sun and, blissfully, think of absolutely nothing for the longest time adrift in the peace of sunbathing meditation. I recall doing just such a thing as a child, lying on the grass, looking up at clouds, in the summers of youth.

Usually Cousin Martha was there or Cousin Barb. We would turn our heads to look at one another and giggle. Giggling was a fine thing.

Oh, the summer days we spent staring up at Chautauqua sky, studying cloud shapes, thinking of nothing, talking nonsense. Having a root beer Popsicle. Saying to one another, out of the blue, do you want to walk to the store? I don’t know. Do you? I don’t know. We would look at one another and grin but hardly move a muscle. Maybe we reached down and plucked a Stalk of Timothy to chew. We would close one eye and then the other. And thus time passed in the summers of childhood. It was frivolous time, summers, often blessed with silence or only the sound of the breeze or the waves lapping the shoreline or birds in the trees. It was a beautiful thing.

I think today this kind of sunbathing is a blessing. It is the ultimate freedom. It absolves us of the reality of our lives, the pace of daily life, the demands on time and action. We don’t fret about bills or worry about the future. We are in the moment, for the moment. We are with friends, family, both. We’re having a beer in the sun with dogs at our feet outside on the porch. Maybe music is wafting over the roof from down the street. A little Tom Petty in the air. A little Neil Diamond’s “Coming to America.” Maybe I get up for five minutes and throw the red ball to Rosie, who eagerly retrieves until my arm grows tired, circling out into the green swath of yard, catching the ball in the air, running it back and dropping it at my feet. I clap for her every time. She looks like she’s smiling. Pip, my poodle, ponders like an old gentleman, sitting quietly like a Buddha by my feet.

In my late teens and early adulthood, I would stop to visit my Johnson aunts on any given summer day. Inevitably, I would find them on Aunt Jane’s front porch. Pink petunias and purple New Zealand Impatiens festooned the covered and shaded spot. Slanted light filled the porch floor and seemed to envelop my three aunts–Jane, Helen, Marian–my father’s adored sisters, who sat with hands calmly folded in their laps, dressed in pressed, chic clothes. Jane in browns, Helen in tans and yellow, Marian in pink and peach. They were always dressed to go out, somewhere, though they rarely left their homes. Helen lived across the street, Marian upstairs from Jane. What are they doing? I would think as I approached them. I’d climb the steps and find them doing nothing, really. I would lean in to embrace each aunt. Their smiles were benevolent. These Johnson sisters had mastered the art of sitting calmly, doing nothing. They would chat some but sat quite still like Swedish monks, absorbing the light. And let me tell you, they shone.

They were on to something, my sweet aunts with their soft powdered cheeks, some ability to do nothing and be quietly joyful. I never heard them fret or gossip or complain. Their biorhythms were beautifully steady. When I left, I would feel well, cleansed, healed.

Doing absolutely nothing. Not a bad thing to do. We are absolved of our daily lives. We are absolved of duties and the task master, Time; of appointments and schedules. We needn’t be anywhere but there. We are kings of world–shining with sun, feet in the air, staring at clouds on a perfect summer day. We fret about nothing. We are simply and beautifully there. At least for a while.

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