Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2001 / 17 Elul, 5761

Doing Nothing

By Yaffa Ganz -- DO you ever dream of doing nothing? In the surrealistic, Kafka-esque reality we call life here in Israel, Doing Nothing -- i.e. Relaxing! -- is a rarity. After two weeks of warfare, bombing in the capital city, shooting all over the country, and helicopters droning over my house and in the skies of Jerusalem non-stop, I needed a little relaxation.

It should have come in the guise of the "cease-fire" we supposedly experienced which meant that for a few days, things were "quieter" (i.e. no suicide bombers or shells, only shooting and grenades around the borders of which we have many.) In any event, the few "quiet days" are over this week when several bombs went off but didn't kill anyone, and when a principled, idealistic Arab, committed to the cause of freedom and independence, exploded himself in the middle of Jerusalem, outside Bikkur Holim hospital (which was, as always, full of Arabs who come there for medical treatment, to have babies, and for other life-saving help.)

That's why I need to indulge in my Dream of Doing Nothing this morning. I don't mean doing something small, or nothing much. I mean doing Nothing At All. Some state of existence past simple relaxation. Like sitting back and absorbing the color of the sky and the trees; listening to the sound of the birds and the wind; breathing deeply and filing my lungs with G-d's life giving elixir. To simply be, and to be grateful for the opportunity.

I often want to do just that, but I rarely if ever do it. Even if I have the time, I am programmed not to "waste time", and just sitting and doing nothing feels like the ultimate waste. I worry about precious life-moments slipping away, never to return. Just saying it out loud makes me shudder.

But perhaps Doing Nothing is another way of thinking, feeling, putting one's head and heart in order and opening windows to one's innermost thoughts and emotions. Another way of touching and strengthening the soul. Of hearing the still voice in the midst of silence (or the bomb shells... ).

The problem is that one needs certain conditions for this kind of inner quiet and urban life doesn't offer them. "Quiet" is the operative word. No noise, no interruptions. A comfortable place to sit or stand (if you like standing) or to lie down. Someplace esthetic (I don't relax well in messy or ugly surroundings).

And a parcel of time you know will be your own. You need a friendly corner, a tree to lean against or a bit of grass to sit on, and fresh air is always helpful. And you need solitude. You really can't relax in the midst of a movie or a mall. If nothing else is available, a place where you can just tune out might do, although it's not as good as true Solitude. But if you can fade into the background and find some measure of anonymity, like in a doctor's waiting room or a crowded bus, it might work, even though it's not ideal.

If you can make the necessary arrangements, you will find that while Doing Nothing, important and delightful things begin to surface. Suggestions to previously unsolvable problems. Happy memories. Feelings of gratitude. A sense of order. Of silence. Of peace. Of course, it is possible that unhappy thoughts will surface too, but I've found that in a conducive, peaceful environment, it's the good things that tend to pop up. Heaven knows we need to be reminded of them once in a while.

I find that whenever I am in a peaceful park or forest, someplace with a lot of green, I am prompted to try my hand at poetry which I then put away and save for posterity. I'm not sure who "posterity" is, but since I don't know what else to do with it, I have bequeathed it to the Future.)

Now does all of this sound like a waste of time? I don't think so. So why don't I find more time to do it? Why are my days filled with urgent business, unending demands and impossible schedules, with cellular phones turned on and inner communication turned off? Why, if I see someone smiling to no one in particular and having some pleasant, internal conversation, am I taken aback and left wondering if he or she is functioning properly? Perhaps I'm the one who needs some fine tuning.

If we spent more quiet time with ourselves, we might also attain a larger measure of serenity vis a vis the rest of the world. We might even learn that being alone part of the time can be a highly pleasurable experience. After all, most of us are fairly decent, intelligent, human beings. We should be able to enjoy our own company. I wouldn't want to be alone all the time, but once in a while sounds good. Again, I don't mean being alone and busy, which most of us are much of the time. I mean being alone, quiet, and free to visit with our inner selves. It makes for a spiritual breather, a spirit of renewal, and a healthier spirit. It even helps deal with bombs, shooting, grenades and mortar shells. Try it sometime and see. It works.

JWR contributor Yaffa Ganz is the award-winning author of more than forty Jewish juvenile titles including the two-volume teen history "Sand and Stars --- A Jewish Journey Through Time" and the popular Savta Simcha Series. You may contact her by clicking here.


© 2001, Yaffa Ganz