Do Nothing

Summa irupathey sugam” is a Tamil language phrase used repeatedly in comedies. It loosely translates to “It is a pleasure to do nothing”. When somebody questions you about the work that you were supposed to do, you would reply wittily “Summa irupathey sugam”.

One of the comedy scenes that I enjoy time and again is by the comedian Vadivelu where he challenges a fellow villager to sit idle doing nothing for one hour. Sorry, this does not have subtitles but here is the link

What do these two have in common? Though they were meant to be a comedy we cannot dismiss them as a joke. These two convey a valuable life lesson like a hidden treasure. 

We often take pride in being busy. We block our calendars completely with activity to show that we are buzzing with life. We take pride in having too much on our plate. As a Zen quote goes,

Beware the barrenness of busyness

We avoid boredom like a plague. In the current hyper connected world, being bored is no more an option. Thank god, some of the vital systems in the body are involuntary. Else, we will forget to breathe in our busy attempt to soak up the information overload.

Recently, some researchers have highlighted the true value of downtime where you do nothing. This is super important for your brain to make connections, apparently. Many successful entrepreneurs are taking a scheduled downtime to recharge themselves. 

In the book, Essentialism, the author Greg McKeown has dedicated an entire chapter on the importance of sleep. In this chapter, he gives an example of an ambitious and accomplished entrepreneur who was a workaholic and was forced to quit his company and take a downtime for two years. The most important lesson that this person learnt during downtime was to protect the asset. The asset being yourselves. We run behind so many things in life in search of success while neglecting what is truly important. 

When Geoff was asked to share what he learnt infront of two hundred plus entrepreneurs, he said “If you think you are so tough you can do anything I have a challenge for you. If you really want to do something hard: say no to an opportunity so you can take a nap.”

Some of us have a medical problem that prevents us from sleeping and we will do anything to get some good sleep. Many of us do not have the disorder but yet throw it away by getting the priorities wrong. 

I want to emphasize it is that it’s okay to be bored, it’s more than ok to sleep in, it’s ok not to be busy on trivial stuffs, it’s ok not to be over ambitious, and sometimes it’s ok to just be and do nothing. Breathe. 

Thanks to @hamzaskymusic for making this photo available freely on @unsplash

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10 thoughts on “Do Nothing

  1. I have been boggled for years the way parents seem to block every moment of their children’s lives with some sort of activity. To the point the kids spend no time at home outside sleeping and bathing. The thought of being that busy 24-7 stresses me out, I can’t imagine the kids don’t occasionally want to ‘do nothing’ and let their minds and bodies rest.
    I have one friend and for the 25 years I’ve known him, he has to have something going on even if he’s already worked an 18 hour day. I can’t keep up with him and I don’t even want to. Keeping yourself busy can be a good thing but like everything else, it can go too far and be detrimental.

    Doing nothing when you have an attention deficit and racing thoughts can be as much a challenge as staying busy to avoid boredom. Trying to find a happy medium.

  2. Spot on post. The problem stems from our own childhood maybe. When I was growing up my parents worked in shifts, so leisure time was a challenge for them. Not their fault as they were first generation immigrants and making a life. Most often we as kids found things to keep ourselves occupied. Draw a picture, play games, watch tv. Yes we got bored but we know how to be creative in that boredom. As we’re now parents we feel we have compensate for our childhood. But there’s the whole fear of our kids missing out if they aren’t doing anything. Don’t get me wrong I’ll do my best to carve out experiences for my kids but I won’t run myself into the ground…what good am I then to anyone… downtime is absolutely crucial. And for the next gen, learn to be bored, learn to procrastinate and that’s when the mind will unlock potentials.

  3. My parents were pretty chill when I grew up. As long as I got a decent score they were okay. In their opinion “tuitions” and additional “coaching classes” are for poor students while all the the parents were signing up their kids for every other class to become a state or at least school topper. The schools began at 9.30. You had enough time in the morning to get up, read news paper and get ready in your own pace. Now the schools are at 7.30. There is not enough time to eat breakfast properly as well. I am all in for pushing a little bit but not so much that you burn out.
    18 hours a day and then some work. Wow. Is your friend Elon Musk? Once I joined work and started reading a lot, particularly on internet, I also get inspired to work my a off when I read some inspiring article. But thankfully, I am back to normal in a couple of days 😀

  4. True. We all want best things for our kids. But I am okay as long as they get a decent grade. I will by all means push my kids a little bit to see their potential. But not so much that they do not have time to play or think at all. My daughter sometimes cribs that it is boring if we do not allow her to watch tv or YouTube, but it is in those time she sits and draws something beautiful or starts playing with her toys creating her own stories.

  5. I think my friend has ‘issues’ he does not want to deal with thus the 18 plus hour days and 7 day a week beer drinking. Not even a heart attack last year has made him slow down or change his ways. Whatever it is he does not want to think about when sober, awake, and alone, it’s some heavy shit.

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