How To Embrace Doing Nothing

An Arthur C. Brooks tutorial.

“One can always take this defense of idleness too far and risk becoming like the lazy man who, when asked ‘What do you do?’ answers, ‘As little as possible.’ The trick is to avoid becoming either a workaholic or a layabout. It’s a question of finding balance between work and leisure, where neither is neglected or crowding the other out. Both should be on your to-do list, undertaken with purpose and seriousness in designated places and times.”

My friends who know me best worry I am a workaholic. My pledge to them, and the universe, is to try to strike a better balance from this point forward.

Related.

Letter To Ponder

I appreciated Tim Alberta’s clarity about what is really at stake with the rise of far-right evangelicals. The unholy alliance between radically conservative Christianity and radically conservative politics doesn’t seek the kingdom of God; instead, it wants to impose a theocracy on the United States of America. Such a theocracy would cheapen the foremost requirement of the Christian faith: humbly carrying one’s cross daily.

Early Christians believed that following Jesus Christ transforms a person into a well of compassion, humility, kindness, and generosity. They put the needs of others before their own.

Theocracy does not require such an inner transformation; the evangelical-right base and its prophets are quick to condemn cherry-picked sins. Jesus, by contrast, said that the important matters of God’s commands are “justice, mercy, and faith.” I don’t think Jesus himself would fit with today’s evangelical base.

Reverend Vanessa J. Falgoust
Natchitoches, La.

You’re Vacationing All Wrong

Opines Richard A. Friedman, a professor of clinical psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College.

“The truth is, when it comes to vacation, rest and relaxation aren’t just overrated. They might even work against the very things a trip is meant to cultivate: a mental reset, a sense of relaxation, happiness. A better vacation is one in which vigorous exercise features prominently. That way, you can take a break not just from work and routine life but also from the tyranny of self-absorption.”

Okay doc, what do you suggest then?

“Recently, a close friend and his wife invited my husband and me to join them on a cycling vacation. I was a bit nervous; I’m a serious swimmer but not an experienced cyclist. Riding 30 to 40 miles a day through Vancouver’s impressive hills for five days sounded like hard work, not pleasure. But by the end of our first day of riding, I was overtaken by euphoric calm.

The work of managing hills by bike has a special way of commanding your attention. I was so busy thinking about whether I could hold my pace for the next rise and how fast I could go downhill without wiping out that I had no time to think about myself. I started looking forward to getting up early and hitting the road. I took in the mountains and forests, dense with cedar and fir, but my focus was really on the bike and the road.”

But this entire Humble Blog is based on the need for more introspection. If everyone is just hammering up hills on two wheels, are we really better off?

“In fairness to the rest-and-relaxation lobby, some introspection is indeed good for you, and being able to tolerate idleness and boredom is a sign of psychological strength. I’m a clinical psychiatrist, and I know well that self-understanding is a cherished goal of therapy. But too much self-examination doesn’t make you happier or more enlightened. Besides, vacation is not the time to work on that skill. You can incorporate moments of idleness into your daily life if you want to get better at sitting with yourself, but vacation is a time for feeling good and escaping responsibilities, including the ones to yourself. Accordingly, you should do what makes you feel good, and that’s activity, not idleness.”

Got it.

As an endurance athlete, I’m keenly aware of how my brain waves fluctuate markedly during most workouts. If I’m going uphill and/or into the wind, my focus narrows a lot on the task at hand. If I’m descending and/or with the wind, my mind drifts to numerous other non-athletic things. I might even begin writing the next blog post.

All movement is good, but add some intensity in on occasion. Even on vacay.

To Get Out Of Your Head, Get Out Of Your House

Advises Arthur Brooks in the Atlantic.

“In one study from 2015, researchers assigned people to walk in either nature or an urban setting for 50 minutes. The nature walkers had lower anxiety, better mood, and better working memory. They were also much less likely to agree with statements such as ‘I often reflect on episodes of my life that I should no longer concern myself with.'”

This morning I went on a short run. I listened to Apple’s Barefoot Acoustic playlist and admired the light fog and dug the slightly cooler morning temp while realizing fall is coming. Still, by the end of the run, I worked up enough of a sweat to head down to the water, (mostly) disrobe, and slip into the Salish Sea. I sat perfectly still in the perfectly still water, up to my chin, admiring a couple birds. A few sculls materialized nearby. They no doubt were intimately familiar with the power of nature.

I felt lucky to be alive.

Half And Half

It’s come to my attention that half of humanity would benefit from being much more introspective. From pressing pause, stepping off the treadmill, turning off the screens, and carefully examining their life. Truly getting in touch with their feelings by breathing, journaling, talking to someone who is empathetic.

The other half, the “overthinkers” get more anxious the more they think about past problems and current challenges. Their thinking spirals. One anxious thought begetting another. They might benefit from doing more and thinking less. Such as being an empathetic listener for others, walking a dog, tending a garden, cycling*.

To flourish interpersonally and positively contribute to the common good one must routinely “work on” themself, but there’s a point of diminishing returns. Except for me, No one strikes the perfect balance, so extend grace to people in both buckets.

*extreme exercise can be a serious detriment to being introspective

Maybe I’m Buddhist

I’m listening to a personal finance podcast series geared towards the retirement set. It’s about how to think about your legacy or how others will remember your brief time on this planet.

I appreciate the fact that the host emphasizes positive, non-material contributions to people and places.

But in starting to think about my potential legacy, I get stuck on this question. Isn’t any consideration of legacy the byproduct of ego? Put differently, I suspect the better we manage our ego, the less concerned we’ll be with our legacy.

Again, I turn to my sissy who occasionally reminds me, “It’s not all about you.” But what if she’s only partially right. What if NONE of it is about me?

Odds are a few people will remember me for a little while. And then I’ll be forgotten. Probably like you.

It’s at this point that Dan, Dan The Transportation Man loses it and calls me a real downer. And I tell him I prefer the term “realist”.

Deciding I don’t know or care much about my legacy, I quit the podcast series midstream.

Another Balm For My Cynicism

In Little League, I was a good fielder, but I couldn’t hit. Another swing and miss on my last post which The Good Wife didn’t find too funny. Maybe it’s not me that was amazing and now isn’t, just my sense of humor.

Through the Biggest Little Farm, a Canadian television documentary about University of British Columbia graduates committed to urban farming, and related reading and multimedia, I’ve become infatuated with small scale farming. I can’t fully explain it, I’m just extremely moved by small groups of people working small plots. I’m sure I’m romanticizing it, but their commitments, work, and products give me hope for the future.

And that’s hard to come by these days.

This heartwarming story, “America’s Most Luxurious Butter Lives to Churn Another Day” nearly brought me to tears. I just love everything about it—the people, the cows, the cows’ names, the pictures, the incredible serendipity.

I want to support local farmers, but besides buying their products at the Olympia Farmer’s Market, I’m not sure the best way to do that yet. If you have ideas, do tell.

Caring, kind, patient parenting and caring, committed, and sustainable farming keep me going when so much seems to be spiraling downwards.


Postscript. Informative critique of “The Biggest Little Farm”.

Why American Teens Are So Sad

Derek Thompson in The Atlantic.

Somber opening that won’t surprise anyone working closely with adolescents.

“The United States is experiencing an extreme teenage mental-health crisis. From 2009 to 2021, the share of American high-school students who say they feel “persistent feelings of sadness or hopelessness” rose from 26 percent to 44 percent, according to a new CDC study. This is the highest level of teenage sadness ever recorded.”

The rest is required reading for anyone seeking to understand teen mental health.

Imagine If

The doctor says it’s terminal and you only get one more walk or run. Where and when? I’d be torn between these beauts.

The Arb, Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota. Miles of incredible, meandering trails. Some by a river, some surrounded by head high grasses, often accompanied by deer. I always get lost and never sweat it. More miles, more better. Great anytime, but especially primo in the fall.

Bodega Head Trail, Bodega Bay, California. What it lacks in distance, it more than makes up in natural beauty. 1.9 miles of exquisite Bodega Bay and greater Pacific Ocean views. Stop anywhere, lay down, and soak up the Vitamin D. The ice plant makes great cushioning for a mid-day nap. An all-time great spring run.

Oak Bay Loop, Victoria, British Columbia. From the Hotel Grand Pacific to Dallas Road around Ross Cemetery and back. ANY sunny morning, but especially nice in the summer. If those coastal views don’t lift your spirit, you really are terminal.

Sunriver, Oregon, Benham Falls Deschutes River Trail. Another summer gem. Beautiful green grasses, a calm river mixed in other places with beautiful water falls, all framed by high desert pines. Full disclosure, since it’s my last run, I’ll be shirtless on this one.

Lastly, if the diagnosis comes in winter, really anyplace with two inches of fresh snow will suffice, but it’s tough to beat Hamar, Norway and Olympia, Washington.

What am I missing?

I Would Watch This Movie

Morgan Hoffmann left the PGA Tour in search of a cure. He found so much more.

Here’s the elevator pitch.

Young, free-spirited, athletic and muscular professional golfer has success on the PGA Tour until he’s diagnosed with muscular dystrophy. He becomes extremely disillusioned that the best Western docs have little hope for him living a normal life, let alone continuing his career. He puts his sticks away, moves to Costa Rica with his wife and dogs, lets his hair grow, surfs, and turns to alternative medicine. Gets better. Plans to return to competition.