Sacred Idleness

The skies were grey, the wind steady, and the rain constant throughout the day. Project plans were set aside and my husband and I decided to nourish ourselves with a day of sacred idleness. That meant sharing thoughts uninterrupted, spending time with our current books, napping, eating leftovers so no cooking was needed, and letting our minds wonder without any time constraints. It was wonderfully nurturing and left us ready to pick up our projects again with renewed energy and enthusiasm.

George MacDonald wrote, “Work is not always required of man. There is such a thing as sacred idleness, the cultivation of which is now fearfully neglected.” Both work and idleness can be sacred if kept in balance, which is a challenge in a society that overemphasizes action and busyness. Work activates mind and body while sacred idleness nourishes the soul, and so both are needed – one is not more important than the other. But it is the sacred idleness that is most often neglected, and we neglect it at our peril.

My husband, the pilot and engineer, reminded me of how important it is for an engine to idle. At a stop light a car rests, conserving its energy for moving forward when the light turns green. That time of rest conserves gasoline and wear on the engine, while increasing its productivity and life span. An airplane waiting to take off down the runway first goes through a complete engine check. Then it idles, conserving fuel, until cleared for takeoff. No engine can operate at full speed all the time without a breakdown in performance. What is true for machinery is also true for us – without idling we too break down.

The term sacred is often used in a religious setting, but it also includes anything that’s highly valued or set aside for a specific purpose. Sacred idleness is not about escaping reality; it’s about making time for what renews our energy. It’s about knowing what inspires us, what recharges our batteries. It’s about pursuing small moments that matter, like watching the waves while walking the beach, paying attention to the patterns of a camp fire, lounging in a chair and feeling the sun on our skin, or spending time in our favorite garden spot, just looking and listening. It brings us into the present moment with relish.

For humans, the form that sacred idleness takes is as varied as each one of us. For me this is especially current because I am in the middle of a major transition that requires careful decision making. To open myself to the wisdom of sacred idleness, I am doing something I have never done before. In February I am leaving town to intentionally go to a quiet retreat place without technology, schedules, or demands on my time. I will be silent during my stay and will make my own timeline to hike, journal, ponder, nap, and embrace stillness, experiencing whatever arises. Out of this deep, sacred, idleness retreat will emerge the clarity and discernment needed for this transition. For this reason there will only be one blog in February that was written in January before leaving. This is my time for the renewal and wisdom of sacred idleness.

Whatever your challenges are, dedicate some time to yourself. Embrace the gifts of sacred idleness and enjoy a renewed you.

Until Next Time – Sylvia

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