Sunday, February 11, 2024

Is Nothing Sacred?


In the late 1970s, this cartoon by Gaham Wilson was published in Playboy. I remember that it not only brought a chuckle, but it made me think about its paradox.I then went on to look at more illustrations and photographs in the magazine. No, I did not read the articles!

My online search for this cartoon was spurred by an episode of 1A from WAMU, a public radio station from American University in Washington D.C. The episode which aired on February 6th was entitled, "The Art of Doing Nothing." It focused on the negative image given to "doing nothing" in our current culture. We are a 24/7, always connected, seeking monetary benefit, and frightened of not knowing the latest trends society. The old adage, "don't just sit there, do something" has become so ingrained that many people never get away from email, scrolling, and feeling anxious and afraid about the world they inhabit. One of the show's guests was Jenny Odell. She is the author of, Saving Time: Discovering Life Beyond the Clock (2023), and How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019).

A personal struggle ebbs and flows; that being a decision to "fully retire." I have pondered the phrases used in describing this later portion of life. Am I "semi-retired?" Am I still "working?" If I don't get a W-2 does this indicate full retirement? Because clergy are deemed self-employed by the IRS, can I retire from myself? At the foundation of these intellectual questions is the aforementioned stigma of doing nothing. If I am not receiving compensation, if I am not producing something tangible for the benefit of others, if I am not leaving the confines of my dwelling, do I have value? Many people come up with simple answers to these questions. I struggle to find and accept an answer that satisfies this inner yearning.

Mixture of elements
"It's better to do nothing than to waste your time." was a poignant sentence from the WAMU broadcast. In the exploration of this statement, doing nothing could range from lying on the ground looking at the sky to structured meditation. Scrolling through social media feeds was not seen as doing nothing.  Scrolling may seem mindless and relaxing. As I conclude a scrolling session, I do not feel enlightened, relaxed, or satisfied. I feel used and dirty. I have wasted my time. A ten minute shower, 5 minutes of exploring what pops into my mind, or a walk around the apartment building would provide greater benefit. Social media is capturing our attention, monetizing our data, and softly infecting our outlook in order to promote the idea that we can never be enough. In a capitalist economy, sales cannot be sustained by reinforcing personal wholeness. Doing nothing, being satisfied, meaningfully connecting with other people and communities, all of which is falsely 
Is this nothing?
being promoted by the purveyors of social media, does nothing to sustain a consumer driven economy. Currently the answer to Gaham Wilson's cartoon question is, "Nothing isn't sacred. Nothing is evil and nothing needs to be destroyed."

The sacredness of nothing is a pilgrimage I desire to begin. How it unfolds in the weeks and months to come is uncertain. Setting aside decades of busyness which overall has been beneficial will take dedicated effort.  I will label this pilgrimage as "Intentional Nothingness." My desire is to embrace the everyday, natural surroundings. I want to interact with the beauty which surrounds me, as well as the beauty which is within me. It has beauty not because it is experienced as pleasing, but simply because it is. Experiencing pain and discomfort and sitting in it can enlighten my perspective. Instead of labeling and judging, I would rather observe and incorporate. Is nothing sacred? I intend to plunge into its manifold dimensions.

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