Mary Medlicott, Storyteller and Author - Storyworks

Storytelling Starters ~ Doing nothing

‘When will you learn to do nothing?’ my father said to me on one occasion as I was looking round for the newspaper so I could do the crossword. ‘Well, that’s what I’m doing right now,’ I replied. ‘I’m doing nothing.’ ‘No,’ he retorted. ‘I mean nothing.’

By now, I’m beginning to know what he meant. He was a great specialist in doing nothing, or rather what looked like doing nothing.  I have only just begun to learn it. Yet I already know how valuable it is to have those times when you’re not searching for a pencil to do the crossword, not picking up the phone to phone a friend, not wondering where you’ve put the book you’re currently reading. Instead, you’re just sitting, perhaps vaguely watching the day outside, the clouds scuttling through the sky, the birds settling on the wire. That can be more than enough.

Today I’ve been wondering why apparently doing nothing can be sufficient. Partly I think it’s that not doing anything in particular allows your mind to go into some kind of abeyance, not focussing on any one thing such as trying to resolve a problem or wondering what to do next. It just allows your mind to be. In such a condition, your mind can receive what what may be a well-deserved rest. No worrying about what birthday present to go out and buy for a friend, no thinking about what there’s going to be for supper, no fretting about cleaning the bedroom or mending that hole in your jumper. Instead, peace.

I suppose it’s akin to meditation. Yet in a way,and at times even better because more ordinary, it’s also simply letting go, abandoning that long list of things to be done that’s probably always somewhere to be found in your mind and instead being peaceful with what’s around you.

Well, while my father was still alive, he would sometimes infuriate me with his idea of nothing. But by now I know what he meant. There is a joy in simply allowing yourself to be. Of course, for so many people, that’s not very possible – or at least only in very small patches. If you have three small children clamouring for attention or an elderly person needing to chat or a whole list of jobs to be done , you can’t easily do nothing. Even so, the possibility of doing nothing is worth bearing in mind. At least it can allow you to create a kind of haven in your thoughts.  For me, for instance, there aren’t now too many have-tos. Yet taking advantage of this fact is still something about which I’ve got a lot to learn.

PS: While a Brixton blackbird sits on a tree stump,  a polished wooden raven from Canada sits on a table in my study. Each has a lot of beauty.

2 Responses to “Storytelling Starters ~ Doing nothing”

  1. Karen Tovell Says:

    Thanks for another fascinating blog, Mary, which got me revisiting the Innuit mythology about Raven, the great transformer, who created something out of nothing. Hope your periods of ‘nothing’ shall be fruitful, too.

  2. Clare Winstanley Says:

    Some of us are better at doing nothing than others, Mary. It has never come easily to me, so I understand that it is something to be learned. Nick, on the other hand, was very good at (apparently) doing nothing. He was, though, always thinking or planning or inventing stories. And he could do it happily for hours. The idea of boredom was completely alien to him as was the notion that there was always something that needed to be done. Doing nothing is a great skill.

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