Once I was on a dating website. It was one of those ones that asks you a million questions and uses a complex algorithm to find matches. Better living through data mining and all that.
One of the 656 questions I answered publicly was this one:
“If you don’t do anything for an entire day, how does that make you feel?”
My answer was “b” It might not be bad. But I’d certainly feel bad. (It’s worth noting that of the thousands of potential matches I viewed, “a” was the overwhelming favorite. Only a handful of us chose “b.” I wonder what’s wrong with us?)
For most people, I suspect that the problem with an unproductive day is guilt. But for me, it’s terror. Terror that I had wasted time. Terror that another day has past without me doing something, anything, to establish myself as the greatest person who ever lived. Terror that I might not, in fact, be the greatest person who ever lived.
Terror that without being great, then I’m not good. At all.
But here’s the problem: I’ve spent a lot of days doing nothing. Holding the remote control in one hand and a lit cigarette in the other while the sun passes across the window and the room goes from dark to light and back to dark. Watching myself in horror like a lucid dream from which I cannot wake. Discovering that it is impossible to do something productive when every word, gesture, or action has the weight of my entire self-worth tethered to it. On those days, I am caught between my insecurity and my desire. A rock and a hard place.
On those days, I am a self-destructing prophecy.
This image was the icon of my old life. My addiction. My depression. Time passing. Nothing happening except terror about the fact that nothing was happening.
So yesterday was a funny day. Because I spent eight straight hours in bed. And it felt great. Not eight hours, exactly. I went to the bathroom a couple of times. I looked for the remote. At one point I left for 35 minutes to get some food.
But then I crawled back into bed. Watched Comedy Central. Took a third nap.
It was, to be fair, a scheduled day off. My office was closed. But I was planning on working, anyway. Doing some notes for my job. Catching up on some reading and long neglected research. Dusting the blinds. Meditating. Going to the gym. Washing clothes. Writing this article.
But when I opened my eyes at 7:45 am, I simply decided to do none of that. Because I was tired. Because I was sad about a break up- a.k.a. some romantic bullshit. But mostly because it felt right. Laying down felt more right than standing up. Being asleep felt more right than being awake.
I know what you’re thinking: Depression. Yeah. Me, too. This is what I’m afraid of. This is why I would feel bad for not doing anything all day. Because it would mean I was broken. And how can I be good enough, if I’m not?
But what if it simply meant that for one day I was not ambitious? That I did not need to prove anything? That I did not fear failing? That I did not need to be anywhere other than where I was? And I did not need to be anyone other than who I was? What if it meant that, for one day, doing nothing was good enough?
This is how meditation was explained to me. The practice of being where you are, and nowhere else. Of being. Letting nothing be nothing, and not making it something else. Of letting nothing be good enough.
So was yesterday was a meditation?
When the day was over, and I was finally forced to get out of bed and pick up my kids at school, I realized that I had actually enjoyed myself. My darkened, smelly depressing, blinds drawn, man- caved day had actually been extraordinarily fun. I was in a comfortable mood.
When I told a friend about it she said:
“Anytime you can spend and entire day in bed with someone and not get sick of them, that’s a pretty good relationship. It sounds like your relationship with yourself is going well.”
That was yesterday. Today is another day. And thus far, I have not spent it in bed. I woke up to the sunshine on my face. I took my children to breakfast. Colored the menu with them. Snuggled with the dog I lost custody of in the divorce. Wrote this piece. And turned it in. Some 20 hours after deadline.
But yesterday. Yesterday was nice. Because despite doing nothing, for a few sweet hours I was good enough for myself. And good enough for myself was absolutely great.
-December 10, 2011