Doing nothing: A counterintuitive remedy for the soul?

Illustration of a woman reclining on a deck chair with two mocktails in hand
Aishwarya Jayadeep/File

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Sometimes when I get nervous, anxious or bored, I twirl my hair, the ends grasping my index finger like those spiky plants that stick to your socks after a long day spent hiking. They’re called foxtails, it turns out. Like a bushy fox tail, as I move my finger in counterclockwise circles, each new cycle wounds tighter and tighter, like a fox squeezing air out of its prey. I feel like I have my air squeezed out when I move in circles each day: wake up, brush teeth, drink my ritual coffee, settle down to work, rub eyes, bathroom, work, dinner, Netflix, sleep. 

It turns out, the way to move out of the cycle is to do absolutely nothing. 

I was in a long line after work one day. People in pinks, yellows, blues. Flowers in reds, golds, fuchsias. I thought if I was glued to my laptop (like I normally am), would I be seeing these colors? Would I notice the girl standing in front of me, arm across her torso, legs crossed, eyes cast down on her phone and scrolling through it with a certain fervor? Would I notice her nervously glance around for her boyfriend as they neared the checkout? Would I notice the woman in the other line, with her perfect plaid pants and carefully combed hair? Would I notice the clear blue sky with not a single cloud to obstruct its lagoon-blue beauty? And feel the breeze as it blows in chilly but well-meaning gusts?

School is important — to a certain extent — as well as grades, internships and all the work we have to do in life. It keeps our lives churning, promising that there’ll always be something better for us ahead as long as we don’t stop. But as with all things, there’s a catch, and for the amount of work we do, sadly, the common one is mental health. We sacrifice happiness for our wheel to keep revolving. Some of us who are more perfectionist in nature keep at it until the point of exhaustion. And when we have a moment to breathe, we decide we’ve breathed for too long and are subsequently wracked with guilt.

But what if we don’t stop? What if we simply pause? Pause and take the time to take in your surroundings. Put your book down, maybe pick one up that you’ve been meaning to read for ages or just do whatever you’ve been meaning to do for ages. Open up a folding chair, and place it in your front yard — or the back one if you’re embarrassed. If people stare, stare back. Heck, even smile and greet them. Most importantly, notice how green that tree in front of your house is getting. It’s spring. Notice how the orange flower, whatever it’s called, is crowding onto the purple one’s space and that the bird is sort of just standing on the other one’s shoulder, and that the squirrel … 

Toss that phone aside, too. Maybe throw it onto the other side of your lawn, so you may fully take in the wonders of this world. I know one day, hopefully when I’m 95-years-old, I’ll wish I had another day to see how the leaves dance in the wind. So maybe, when you feel like you can squeeze in one more assignment and collapse onto your bed, showered with the gentle gleam of twilight, remember that you can choose to do nothing, even if just for a moment. And that moment, though much slower, might just turn out to be good for your soul.

Contact Angelina Yin at [email protected].