When two of my favourite things to do are sitting around a campfire and listening to the rain, it’s rare that I get to enjoy them at the same time. They tend to be mutually exclusive.
But on Saturday night, as a light rain fell on my umbrella, I sat in front of our small backyard campfire and did nothing at all.
No camera to document the moment.
No phone to tweet or Instagram my evening.
No urgent need to rush off and be productive.
I sat in front of that fire and listened to the rain drops hit the hot coals. I watched the smoke rise up and over our wooden fence. I felt the warm, heavy weight of our dog as he slept on my knee. I heard the distant rumble of thunder.
And it was beautiful.
But it was hard. At least to begin with.
It was hard to sit there and do nothing. More than once I thought, “I’ll just run inside and grab my phone. I can take a photo.” Unspoken were the additional tasks I would then do – check Twitter, maybe Facebook, definitely take a moment to Instagram the fire photo, possibly check a news website and see if any urgent emails had come through. (Urgent emails? Really? Who am I – the Prime Minister? Come on.)
But I did none of those things, and I was rewarded. After about 15 minutes, I noticed my brain doing two unexpected things.
First, I got really creative. Words and ideas and stories and pictures formed in my mind. I head-wrote a book chapter, I thought through two or three blog posts and I imagined a series of photographs I want to take.
My brain was unencumbered by constant input and was allowed to create output. The only stimulation was the flickering of the fire and the patter of the rain. My brain had room to be creative and I was amazed at how clear my mind felt.
The second thing that my brain did, was that it let go. I got sleepy. It was only 8:00pm and I felt properly and deliciously drowsy. My body relaxed and I felt comfortable enough to simply sit there and enjoy the feeling.
My eyes and brain are used to staring at a screen of some description in the evening. Be it the TV, while watching our current series of choice on Netflix, or my iPad, while reading a book, my brain is often exposed to the blue, flickering light of a screen at night.
Considering those blue, flickering screens actually promote wakefulness, it’s no surprise that I felt sleepy in their absence. My brain was just doing its job, after all.
So I sat by the fire for an hour or more. I soaked in the peace. I let my thoughts wander where they liked. I looked at the world around me. I noticed little things that so often go unnoticed. I ignored the need to do something, and instead, I did absolutely nothing.
In a world that values action, and results, and success, this felt like a counter-cultural thing to do.
How often, when asked what we did over the weekend, will we respond, “Oh, nothing much.” When the reality is that we cleaned the house, visited friends, took our kids to sport, grocery shopped, watched a movie, had a BBQ, bought a birthday present, cleaned out the garage, paid some bills and felt overwhelmed.
These things have to happen, they are everyday tasks – mundane, even – but they are not nothing.
Saying these tasks are nothing simultaneously makes them seem insignificant (they’re not, it’s called life) and makes you wonder why you’re so tired when you haven’t done anything (because you never actually stop).
We need to carve out a little more space in our lives for truly doing nothing.
- Lay on the grass and stare at the sky
- Sit on the lounge and close your eyes
- Light a campfire and watch the flickering flames
- Walk out the front door with no idea of where you will wander, then do it aimlessly
- Turn off every single screen in your home and lie quietly on your bed
Let your thoughts go where they will, and resist the urge to get up and do something.
If we all embraced the need to do nothing at all, a little more every day, I wonder how different we would feel?