I am back from spending ten days in Paris. Ten glorious days largely spent doing nothing.
“What?!” you may be exclaiming incredulously. “What’s the point of travelling if you’re not going to do… stuff?!”
Calm down; I should be more precise. One day in overall was spent on travel, the necessary evil of spending time in Paris when you live almost 8k kilometers away. And while in Paris I did two tours; one full day to the Champagne region (because, Champagne) and a half-day visit to Monet’s home in Giverny.
But other than that, I did nothing. No museums. Nope to Hop-On-Hop-Off buses. No boat cruises. Nothing. I meandered from neighbourhood to neighbourhood stopping to eat, watch and just be. I’ve been so lucky to have been to Paris enough that I don’t need to visit the Louvre or L’Arc de Triomphe or go up the Eiffel Tower… I’ve done all that. Multiple times. This visit was just about enjoying the city, exploring it, and feeling as close to being a Parisian as one can, never having been one. If you’re counting, that’s seven days of doing nothing. Far niente.
I apologize for mixing my country and cultural references. Dolce Far Niente is an Italian term for ‘the sweetness of doing nothing.’
The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes dolce far niente as “pleasant relaxation in carefree idleness” and I couldn’t agree more with the concept. Much has been written about the North American drive to achieve; to do more, buy more, show more, brag more. More, more, more. And I wouldn’t presume for a moment to pretend to know what the European culture truly is but I can tell you, it feels slower.
Waiting for five minutes for a waiter to come to see you at a restaurant? No worries. Shoving your food down quickly so you can hurry on and get to your next ‘thing’. Nope, not there. Sit back. Relax. Your life will continue, you will get done what you need to get done. For now, enjoy this moment.
Your ‘stuff’ will be there… later
The city, the culture, and the people around you virtually take you by the hand, put an arm around your tense shoulders, and remind you that you are in someplace special. Your worries, they’ll be there when you get back home, if you even still care about them. For now, take a deep breath, close your eyes for a moment and when you open them, really look at where you are. Allow your mind room enough to listen to what your heart, your body, and your soul are trying to say.
A worthy question, in our hurried, troubled world, when we are rushing and frantically trying to do, finish, and check off our endless lists of tick boxes, is “will this matter one year from now? Will it matter five years from now?” If the answer is no, why are we letting these things drive us to distraction, frustration, and even illness?
Aspiring to expert Far Niente status
I aspire to be a Far Niente expert, a veritable poster woman for the art of doing nothing. Don’t worry, I will still get things done, everything that needs to be completed will be (including my book). But I will also allow myself to melt into the serenity of stillness, relaxation, and reflection as often as I can.
I’m fully aware that I sit in a place of privilege to even be able to contemplate the notion of doing nothing. I’m not working two, or even three jobs to make ends meet. My children are all grown and they are self-sufficient. But I do wish someone would have taken me aside when I was working full-time and volunteering on countless boards and committees and told me, “You don’t have to do all that stuff; you don’t need to prove anything to anyone except yourself. And ‘yourself’ could use a rest. Far niente and see what you learn.”
I guess it’s only when time becomes in short supply, when your days left on this earth are far fewer than the days you have already enjoyed, do you begin to appreciate you do have the power to slow down time, if only for a little while.
Do it whenever you can. You can thank me later.