Delicious idleness: the well known Italian expression and concept of “dolce far niente”. We know it as the sweetness, pleasure and carefree feeling of doing nothing. The enjoyment of sheer indulgent relaxation and blissful laziness.
And then there’s Sacred Idleness, perhaps its more serious cousin.
Epstein used the term to encourage medical practitioners to take time out. In order to cultivate habits of mind, such as attentiveness, curiosity and presence. So as to enhance their own wellbeing and be more effective in their medical practice. I know through introducing the concept to leaders across sectors, that they intuitively recognise it is critical for their resilience and evolution. And they know this idleness takes some work!
It is the work of learning. And in particularly of learning to let go. We don’t just stumble across it, but intentionally dedicate time for it. A time of rest, restoration, rejuvenation and also of reflection. It nurtures us and develops our wisdom along the way. We honour and relish it through our attention to the present moment. Earnest in its purposefulness, it is more about suppleness and emptiness than control and activity. We set off with an intention and are open hearted and open minded to what emerges from the not-doing.
As some leaders experience on the mountain solo we run, to be idle in this way, can be deliciously sweet and blissful. For others it can feel anything but. At least at the start, especially for those not used to not-doing, or contemplating who they are and what they do.
Its limitless forms
Sacred Idleness can take unlimited forms. There is no prescription. It depends on every individual and their situation. Ultimately it is about being fully with yourself. In stillness embracing it all. With whatever emotion and thought arises.
It may involve retreating to your garden or to the mountains. To gain perspective in the glory of nature.
Maybe it will involve sitting silently in front of the fire. Encompassed by its warmth and security. Seeing the reflection of your mind in the changing, dancing flames.
Or you may lounge on a chair. To feel the sensations of the sun and air on your skin. And reflect on what has past. And what you would like to manifest.
Maybe you just want to hang out at your favourite spot. And contemplate the big questions in your life.
For some, it will be to meditate. To give gratitude to all who and what they love.
For others it may be a dedicated 10 minutes by themselves. Between dinner courses or between juggling demands of the dog, children and relations. To not only ‘catch a breath’, but to sit there with it.
So may you gift yourself sacred idleness at this special time. And carry on this conscious practice as an ongoing commitment to your health and wellbeing.
And may you gift yourself delicious idleness for the same reasons.
- A term coined by George MacDonald as quoted in Poor Man’s College Quotations, 1994. in Epstein, R.M. (2003b) “Mindful Practice in Action (II): Cultivating Habits of Mind”, Families, Systems & Health, 21(1): 11-17.
- This article as also gifted to www.impactinternational.com
- Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash