Dolce Far Niente

I have a dirty little yoga secret.

I don’t love savasana.

My mind and body refuse to stay quiet. Together they plan and scheme. They want to be doing something…anything but stillness.

And that leads me to this post that has refused to be shelved.

This past October, I had written the following entry. Then, as our days turned into sadness, this piece was put aside. But it refused to lie still. In November, I received a letter from my sister-in-law. In it, she included the following quote:

“If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.” Lin Yutang

This forgotten entry came to mind and tugged at me. But I had other things to get out.

Last night, in the quiet of early February, I watched an old movie on Netflix. The famous line, “dolce far niente,” again gave me a shove. Here is the post that would not remain silent–a confession of sorts:

There are many areas that are not my strength. Consciously ‘doing nothing’ tops this list. Throughout my work and school life, there were always so many things to get done. I hated the pressure of trying to complete things at the last minute. To counterbalance, I attempted to use my time wisely–perhaps a bit too wisely. I was always cramming in little tasks here and there so that I wouldn’t need to worry about them later. The problem was that a multitude of other tasks always snuck in to take their place. Always! A middle-school student, who frequented my office when I was a first-year principal, kindly tried to offer me some advice. “You should pay yourself first,”  he said. “You know, like have fun and take breaks before you do the other stuff. The work part will always be there — it doesn’t go away.” These were very wise words, especially coming from a thirteen-year-old. If only I would have/could have heeded them.

A blogger that I follow, previously posted that he has been focused on saving money his whole life. Although he is now retired, and financially solid, it is still very difficult for him to spend money. His saving patterns are ingrained. This is my exact same dilemma — but my ingrained patterns are with time.

On one of the final days of our October home-exchange, my husband suggested that we spend the afternoon sitting around the pool. All afternoon! I don’t swim (okay, I can swim, but I usually choose not to). And the hot tub was too cool for my tastes. I had just finished my book for book club and didn’t want to start another until I had allowed my mind to ruminate on that novel a bit more fully. What would I do during all of that time, especially when Richard was napping or swimming? More importantly, how would I prevent those many pesky tasks from calling my name? You know, like the vegetables in the fridge calling to be chopped for dinner. The laundry in the hamper begging to have their turn in the washing machine. The jumbled pile of receipts demanding to be sorted in preparation for going through customs in a few days. Even my yoga mat was imploring me to work on my downward-facing dog. (Not being into hot yoga, it was simply too warm to pull my mat outside and practice there.)

Richard, who is fabulous at enjoying the moment, modeled. He comfortably sat in the lounge chair, leaned back and enjoyed the rays. He took a dip in the pool then sipped the hard-lemonade smoothies (that I had snuck out and made). He relaxed and napped peacefully. I so admire that!! I tried to do the same. I really did! I squirmed. I wiggled and jiggled. I flipped through a magazine. I took a few sneak peaks at random messages on my phone. I did manage to do (almost) nothing for most of the afternoon. But when Richard left for a late afternoon walk, I madly scrambled and did all of the jobs listed above (okay, except for the downward-facing dog).  I was left with the knowledge that ‘relaxing idly’ is a skill that I simply do not possess…not even in retirement.

Dolce far niente….the sweetness of doing nothing.

If you have mastered the ability to kick back completely, what advice do you have for a wanna-be lounger like me? And if ‘chilling out’ isn’t your natural thing, what strategies have you discovered to overcome this? Please share!

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34 Replies to “Dolce Far Niente”

  1. I don’t think this is any surprise to anyone who follows your blog lol.

    I am at the furtherest end of the scale to you as possible – and am trying to learn the opposite. I make lists of things I would like to do, both chores as well as the fun things as I seem to be able to waste hours doing so very little.

    I’ve just spent 7 days laid up in hospital and although I can’t wait to be home I have no burning desire to ‘get on with things’ when I get there.

    I don’t make New Year resolutions but this year I have decided to forward plan more things, holidays, hobbies and exercise and commit to those plans. I am in the process of planning a long desired trip to Tasmania. In November. While there I’d like to do some walking tours. Because of my recent health issues I’m certainly not fit enough so now I have to start an exercise program (luckily I work in a Physiotherapy clinic and have lovely staff to help me). It is actually exciting to have goals and timelines to work towards.

    Hopefully I will become the busy person who fits even more into their lives. I wonder how many people feel that they are the perfect balance between the two poles.

    1. Hi, Patsy – Thank you so much for taking the time to comment. I totally agree, we often seem to desire traits that we don’t possess (and those who do possess those traits seem to desire the opposite)! I hope that you are feeling better soon (and that the hospital renovations quiet down so that you can nap)! Keep in touch and let us know how your recovery goes.

  2. I understand your difficulty, Donna. I share it. Doing, doing, doing is at first a necessity and then it becomes a pleasure. For me it was a way of outrunning the crazy feeling that came with stillness.

    I still overdo but nowhere near as often as before. Four things have helped/are helping me learn to embrace dolce far niente.

    1. Reiki massages – I’m sensitive to energy so these massages, with a great massage therapist, really work for me. To gain the benefit of them you have to focus on breathing and work to empty your mind.

    2. Guided meditations – There was absolutely no way I could meditate on my own. My brain just went wild. But when I learned of guided meditations by Deepak Chopra and Oprah Winfrey (from my Reiki therapist) that changed a lot. They’re on Deepak’s website – 21 day meditations at 10 minutes a day. I’ll write more about them on my blog next week; they’re worth checking out.

    3. A book by Tara Brach called Radical Acceptance. She also does a very nice course on Udemy. Brach is a psychotherapist,a Buddhist and one of the top mindfulness instructors. She’s great at helping people like me (us?) learn to identify and sit with sensations in our bodies. I am an absolute novice at this and have to take it in baby steps, but it’s powerful stuff.

    4. Practicing mindfulness and trying to be in the present moment for tiny little moments of time, starting with those tasks you talked about. When I am chopping vegetables, I try to do nothing and think nothing and be aware of nothing other than the vegetables, the knife, my body, maybe the air in the room and the sounds of nature or of my breathing.

    All four of these ideas are working for me, albeit very, very, very slowly. I’m trying to learn to be kind to myself that I’m not immediately great at dolce far niente. It’s definitely a work in progress, but an area of growth that feels worth pursuing – especially in retirement! Good for you for working at relaxing – an oxymoronic phrase if ever there was one.

    1. Hi, Karen – Thank you so much for the very thoughtful suggestions. I greatly appreciate you taking the time to share them. I don’t have any first hand experiences with the strategies that you suggest but they all do sound very positive and helpful. When I am chopping vegetables (or doing most things, really) its like several tracks of my mind are running at the same time, with each track on its own separate mission. That served me well in my busy work life…but I feel it is definitely time to slow that down several notches. I look forward to reading your upcoming post on guided meditation.

  3. I cannot fathom a middle schooler saying this! What a wise student! “A middle-school student, who frequented my office when I was a first-year principal, kindly tried to offer me some advice. “You should pay yourself first,” he said. “You know, like have fun and take breaks before you do the other stuff. The work part will always be there — it doesn’t go away.” These were very wise words, especially coming from a thirteen-year-old. If only I would have/could have heeded them.”
    Many of the traits you described are mine as well-about the only thing I learned from this is to do the jobs that are for me personally, first. If I didn’t, they would never get done once the work day unfolded.

    1. Hi, Fran – Yes, the student that I mentioned was wise beyond his years (that is probably one of the reasons why he was sent to my office so often)! Truly, I should have written down more of what middle school students have said to me over the years. If I had, I would never run out of material for this blog! Thanks for sharing your strategy. That sounds like a doable plan.

  4. Not sure I will ever get there either. I have a permanent guilty conscious. “Thou shalt accomplish many tasks each day”. You can substitute “make money” or “help family”. If what I am doing is not productive or does not advance my goals, I feel guilty. Practicing tai chi helps quiet my mind a little but not the conscious.

    It’s odd because deep down inside, I know that I am an incredibly lazy person.
    Marian recently posted…Why Do Bloggers Blog? This is Why I Do.My Profile

    1. Hi, Marian – One of my favorite things about blogging is finding like-minded individuals. I totally hear what you are saying and it sounds very, very familiar to me. Interesting suggestion about tai chi as I just received an email from a friend telling me about a beginners’ class starting shortly in our area. Fate?

  5. I am like you and I really don’t want to change. When I retired I started saying “no” more. I didn’t give myself firm deadlines but if there is something that needs to be done, I’d prefer to get it done than think about it. I try to dedicate an hour or two in the afternoon to “watch” the wildlife in my backyard in the summer but even that is occasionally interrupted with a weed that needs to be pulled. Pulling that weed gives me pleasure and I’m all about that. I wish you success but at this point I am accepting me the way I am.
    Kate recently posted…The cool kidsMy Profile

    1. Thanks, Kate – Accepting who we are is really the way to go, but….if I could be myself and relax just a bit more….(just sayin’)!

  6. This is a toughie, Donna! There is just so much to do, even when you are home all day. I have the same issue. And, things you think about, have to be done immediately, because new tasks (emails, projects…) appear all the time, adding to the pile otherwise. That being said, I have managed to relax with a book, but only if a certain mental list has been finished. The best way to achieve this (not that I am successful at it) is creating a manageable list of things to do for the day (with maneagable I mean short, so you will have time left) and, when done, try to relax. Take in the view, smell the flowers. Of course, relaxing means different things to different people. To me, it means reading or watching TV. Just sitting around and doing nothing is hard, not in the least, because my head doesn’t stop creating ideas. But, that’s OK. Not everyone needs to enjoy “doing nothing”. 🙂
    Liesbet recently posted…IWSG Writing Update – February 2017My Profile

    1. Thanks, Liesbet. You’ve nailed my dilemma exactly. How can I possibly have so much to do when I am home all day, don’t work and am not currently responsible for any dependents? That really is a mystery!

  7. What a fabulous post, and a brave confession. I know exactly what you’re feeling and struggling with. A regular yoga practice helps me with the lesson of ‘doing nothing.’ When I leave a 99-minute class (yes including savasana and some chanting) I float out and have an entirely new perspective. I realize that my best times in life are when I have absolutely nothing on the docket. XO
    Pamela recently posted…Reason for BeingMy Profile

    1. Hi, Pam – Thank you so much for commenting. It is truly reassuring to find so many like-minded individuals out there–especially ones whom I greatly admire! I am a relative beginner at yoga, but I do find it to be beneficial in numerous ways!

  8. I am much more laid back than you describe yourself as being, but I also find it difficult to “just be.” My husband loves to take a 20 – 30 minute nap in the afternoon, but I don’t think I could ever do that. I take his napping as an opportunity to do other things uninterrupted. I also believe that in this age of easily accessible “entertainment” (our smartphones, for instance), “just being” could become a luxury of the past.
    Janis recently posted…Thursday Doors: Tears for QuebecMy Profile

  9. Hi, Janis. Yup, ‘husband-napping’ is my true ‘turbo-drive time’.
    I couldn’t even successfully take a daytime nap when I was a young child, so I rarely attempt it as an adult. Thanks for commenting.

  10. I read so much of myself in these words, Donna, sitting idle just doesn’t work for me and never will. If I sit by a pool there is definitely a book in my hands. The “sweetness of doing nothing” is a little sour! I guess all those years as a working single mom ingrained the multi-tasking maven in me. The Ancient Greeks, in their quest for leisure, found contemplation to be fulfilling. So sitting and thinking is probably a good thing!

    1. Hi, Terri – Interesting info about the Ancient Greeks. Glad to hear that you are also a member of the ‘just can’t sit idle’ club!

  11. I’ve always been on the other extreme: I have absolutely no problems doing nothing, being lazy, and enjoying it way too much. I’ve paid myself first so much that I’m debt to someone out there (probably my ex-wife, but thankfully she doesn’t read your blog to my knowledge).

    Kick back a bit, Donna! 🙂

    1. Oh, it would be funny if she did read my blog. It’s a small world out there…but alas a relatively small blog…so you are safe here.

  12. I was talking about savasana just last night with a friend… talking about how I don’t truly relax during it. We were talking about how I want my yoga classes to be “challenging” me and not quiet meditation! She laughed because she knows me well – Type-A workaholic! Need a plan, a to-do list, and a well-scheduled calendar.

    The one time/place that I have found I can relax and just “be” is sitting and watching the waves at the beach in Florida. No book, no list of to-do’s running through my head – just the sound of the waves and building little sand piles with my feet. Not every beach day, but I realized I do have some that are like that there. I don’t have that place/time “at home” in Cincinnati, which I think is one of the reasons I love our place in Florida. It allows me to have those moments of just being… sitting and watching the world go by.

    Maybe we both need to search out a similar time/place that is close to home to replicate that. I just had the thought to goal-set hours of lazy, do-nothing downtime… Hah! Put it on your to-do list!?! Hope you’re getting the irony and laughing at this! Hugs.
    patricia recently posted…Living a 21st Century RetirementMy Profile

    1. Putting ‘Dolce Far Niente’ in your daytimer? Love it!! I also love the idea of watching the waves in Florida. Wish you and I lived closer…I would definitely meet you there!

  13. Donna, this sounds so familiar. Busy, busy, busy — I am ruled by the tyranny of productivity. As I stand on the threshold of retirement, I am beginning to ask myself what I am trying avoid with my constant busyness. Or put another way, what do I get out of keeping myself so busy all the time? Why do I cling to busyness?

    Karen in the comments above puts it well: “For me it was a way of outrunning the crazy feeling that came with stillness.”

    I do know that most of my creative thoughts come to me in contemplative moments when I let go of “doing” and am just “being.” I also think there is a difference between doing nothing and being in the moment. I am trying for the latter. For example, when I go for a walk, I banish the “to do” list from my head and give myself over to the scenery, the wind, and the smell of the air.

    Jude
    Dr Sock recently posted…Bye Bye BooksMy Profile

    1. This is a great reflection, Jude. Interesting point about your creative thoughts coming to you when you ‘let it all go.’ I tend to wake up in the morning with most of my blog posts already written…and I need to rush for my computer to write it all down. This only tells me that even in my sleep something inside of me is still scurrying for productivity. Good grief…I may be beyond help!

  14. Thanks Donna for another insightful post. I am a bit like you always have things to do , on my mind, swirling around but I am finding that I am enjoying periods of doing not much and not being so productive every day. It’s hard and I admit to usually having a bout of the guilts afterwards. It’s an interesting concept that we all need quiet time but I’ve not got into yoga much at all. Thanks again for sharing and thanks to all the others who have commented with their interesting thoughts.
    Debbie Harris recently posted…Why you should take your phone with you EVERYWHERE!My Profile

    1. Thanks, Debbie – Balance definitely is the key. Since retiring, I believe that I have been getting better in this regard. But, when left to my natural tendencies….

  15. Oh Donna, except for some of the names and details, I could have written this post … a few years ago.

    With practice however, I think I’ve learned to relax more. I still tend to be a flurry of activity – physically and/or mentally – but I’ve also learned to “unplugged” my brain … a nap in the afternoon after a poor night of sleep, or the rare treat of a TV movie in front of the fireplace on a chilly afternoon.

    I’ll never be the kind of person who is content to spend long hours of doing nothing – that’s not who I am – but I am starting to appreciate small bites of simple mindfulness throughout the day, like just stopping to listen to the rain on the skylight.

    I no longer think of ‘doing nothing’ as a special feast, but rather periodic small snacks 🙂
    Joanne Sisco recently posted…Back In The Fast LaneMy Profile

    1. Thank you for such an inspiring reply, Joanne. Makes me think that there is hope for me after all. I will let you know once I have had my first successful afternoon nap. Periodic small snacks…I love it!

  16. Donna, I’ve realized that I haven’t been receiving any of your replies to my comments. I thought perhaps I needed to select the button at the bottom which says “Notify me of followup comments by email”, but then it sent me EVERYONE’S comments.

    Has anyone else mentioned this problem? I was flipping through several of your posts and noticed that there are no conversation threads of back-and-forth comments which strikes me as unusual for posts which are so thought provoking.
    Joanne Sisco recently posted…When Love SurprisesMy Profile

    1. Hi, Joanne – Thank you for letting me know about this.
      I use self-hosted Word Press. I think that it acts a bit differently (and annoyingly) than WordPress.Org.
      Due to some readers concerns, I first switched my comments to Discuz – which seemed to have an over-active catcha, preventing many reader’s comments. I then switched to Comment Luv to try to improve my comment feature (and allow bloggers to share a link to their recent post).
      First and foremost, I am in blogging for the interaction – and love comment threads. I do reply to each and every comment received (it’s one of my favorite parts of blogging). I will need to go back to the drawing board.
      Do you (or any other readers) have any suggestions?

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