Dolce Far Niente

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.  Not needing to do anything. Be anywhere.

And then there’s Sacred Idleness, perhaps its more serious cousin.

Sacred Idleness

I first came across the term with my work with physicians. 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 even more work!

It is the commitment to self-care.  The discipline of self-inquiry.  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.

I think covid19 has highlighted the need for us to engage in such meaningful idleness. When there are so many things out of our control, our first priority needs to be our own physical and emotional wellbeing.  We cannot look after each other and the earth well, if we do not look after ourselves.

And sacred idleness 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 solos 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 your own true nature. Embracing all of you, with whatever arises. Observing yourself with compassion.

It may involve retreating to your balcony, to a nearby park or to the mountains. To regulate. 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 this year has meant to you. And what you would like to manifest.

Maybe you just want to hang out at your favourite spot. And to contemplate resilience. Or to sit in joy.

For some, you will want to meditate.  Others will draw inspiration and solace from a book. Or a podcast.

You may just want to give gratitude to all who and what you love.

For others it may be a dedicated 10 minutes by themselves. Between dinner courses or between juggling demands of the dog, children and Zoom calls with relatives. To not only ‘catch a breath’, but to sit there with it.

The wish

To use a line from a Johnny Clegg and Savuka song. “It is a cruel crazy beautiful world’.

May you gift yourself sacred idleness at this unique 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
  • Of course, you must check out the #earthconversepodcast which explores our conversations and relationships with the earth, all in the hope of deepening the connection with ourselves, each other and the earth that is our home.
  • Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash
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