When I headed out of my accommodation here in a small resort community on Sri Lanka’s south coast today, I had no clue where I was going or what I was going to do. I ended up wandering around town for a while before deciding that sipping on a coconut in a beach café was about all I was up for in the midday sun and heat. It was definitely a good call, despite the fact that I’m surrounded by some surprisingly surly tourists (just what is it about a beautiful day in a tropical paradise that can make people so cranky?). Luckily the crashing waves and passersby are enough of a distraction that the grumps surrounding me have quickly faded into the background. I’m not sure how long I’ll stay or what I’ll do later, and that’s just fine.
I’ve been supporting myself in recent years mostly through academic editing, which has allowed me to both learn about a whole raft of random topics and deepen my knowledge of my own language. However, it’s been hard on both my headaches and my eyes, and it’s made it difficult for me to both engage in and enjoy reading and writing – which are two of my favorite activities. I have some ideas about other things I’d like to pursue, but given the time and cerebral energy I’ve been devoting to my work I haven’t been very successful in making much progress (despite being a nomad with few daily responsibilities apart from ensuring that my basic needs are met). At the beginning of the month I thus decided that I need to spend some time living in what I think of as the void. In other words, I am taking a hiatus from editing to see what else bubbles to the surface in the months to come. I may explore some of the projects that have been rolling around in the back of my brain, but I may go in a completely unforeseen direction. For now my main goal is just want to create some space. Some space for ideas to be sparked and grow, for creativity to come to the fore, for the universe to help lead me to some new experiences and initiatives.
While I love the feeling of feeling untethered and free, it’s also somewhat discombobulating and can seem a bit scary. It’s a void, after all. As a result it can be hard to resist the temptation to keep filling that space with, well, nonsense (for instance, I think I spent about 15 hours putting together the basic itinerary for my remaining few weeks in Sri Lanka, considering a bajillion different options before ultimately going with the plan I originally put together last month; it was such a productive exercise!). I think that many of us from fast-paced societies – myself included – are so used to a world of schedules and milestones that we are simply not innately comfortable living a completely unstructured existence. Unless we are seriously ill, it can be hard for us to have even a totally unplanned day, let alone a longer period of time. I’ve gotten better at it over the years, especially as I move further and further away from my initial high-stress career path. Nonetheless, it remains a skill I have not completely mastered.
A week in a sleepy little beach town that offers precious few things to “do” has certainly helped me to progress in this regard. It’s also made me think quite a lot about the Italian concept of “il dolce far niente,” which translates to “the sweetness of doing nothing” – or as the Merriam Webster dictionary more poetically defines it, “pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness.” From what I understand, it really doesn’t have anything to do with being lazy; it’s instead about the pure joy that one can experience when not doing anything in particular – whether it’s enjoying a coffee with friends, sitting on a park bench, or leisurely searching for shells and other treasures in the sand. The beauty of it is not only that you learn to truly savor the moment; you also clear out the noise of day-to-day life and create a beautiful space in which any number of new things can emerge. As my friend Lou* eloquently put it, “Often when you just enjoy doing nothing you have the most creative ideas and the best solutions to any problem.”
Relishing the small and soul-replenishing moments of my time here in Mirissa has been a big help as I settle into living in the void for a while. In particular it’s made me realize that the nothingness is indeed full of everything; you just need to recognize and appreciate it. In my head I’m therefore wrapping a lovely bow around this present moment of sun, surf, sand, coconuts – even surly tourists – to untie whenever I need a reminder to do just that. And I thank you for now being a part of it. 🙂
(@ Mirissa, Sri Lanka)
* Lou’s great writing on this topic helped to inspire this piece (thank you, m’dear!). Please be sure to check out her original post and learn more about the wonderful community that she and her boyfriend are launching in the mountains outside of Naples later this year: At Lou & Luca’s.