Meaninglessly Busy or Meaningfully Idle?

The Gardener's Hands by Leonard Franckowiak
The Gardener’s Hands by Leonard Franckowiak

I don’t know about you, but whenever idleness creeps over me I begin to feel uncomfortable and usually end up doing something, anything, even if it’s not at all important and I do it mechanically. Idleness brings with it, at least in my case, a sense of loss, of wasted time. However, though my conscience may be appeased by ceaseless activity, the results are not necessarily favorable. I can easily end up undoing something simply because I do it too much, or doing something that should have not been done in the first place, just to avoid idleness.

Too much idleness is, of course, bad, for it begets laziness, indifference, neglect, neurosis even. “If we do not keep [our minds] busy with some particular subject which can serve as a bridle to reign them in, they charge ungovernable about, ranging to and fro over the wastelands of our thoughts,” says Michel de Montaigne in his essay On Idleness. And in the same essay he adds, “When the soul is without a definite aim [it] gets lost; for, as they say, if you are everywhere, you are nowhere.”

But I ask myself, if more people were more idle, wouldn’t we have fewer conflicts, fewer wars, less pollution, less waste, less of everything that’s bad? We may have less of all that is good, too, I suppose, but then maybe we would still have plenty of good things left to enjoy ourselves?

Besides, doesn’t idleness help us cool off a little? It’s not exactly meditation, I grant that, but it encourages our thoughts to wander away from our immediate concerns, helping us to relax, to realize that those big issues in our lives that we keep worrying about are not as big as we make them to be.

In our times, especially when we are surrounded by technology, we can easily keep ourselves busy without being meaningfully busy, without doing something worthwhile. We can easily be meaninglessly busy in front of our computers or our tablets, to say nothing of our smartphones.

In the end, it’d say idleness is neither good nor bad, but what we make of it. We are more likely to cause harm, damage, and pollution by being busy, than by contemplating our navels. But then if we contemplate our navels too much, our risk of dying of hunger significantly creases.

What I propose is that we try to be less meaninglessly busy and more meaningfully idle. It’s for our own good.

Does idleness bother you? Do you think idleness is bad?

11 thoughts on “Meaninglessly Busy or Meaningfully Idle?

  1. I was the queen of Idleness last month after surgery. I was so exhausted, I ate, slept, iced, elevated and then repeated. I felt very guilty and was happy when the fog lifted and I could get some real work done.
    High winds pummeled my house last night, so I didn’t sleep well. I will take some idle time, guilt-free, nap time today!

  2. I have trained myself over many years until I have achieved the very pinnacle of idleness. My condition if copied with due dedication could as you say achieve World Peace.
    I find this to be preferable to being busy and maybe bringing about the downfall of the world.( I was going to say Western Civilisation but I’m not sure we’re all that civilised these days).

  3. Agreed. I have been so shattered this week I haven’t done yoga once and don’t even remember meditating for more than 5 mins all in and I feel like shit for it. We all definitely need more time in the baron spaces ❤

  4. Large periods of idleness have allowed me to become very bored. That boredom allowed both the opportunity and inspiration for me to create my very own music and literature.
    Therefore, I think idleness is very useful for creative thinkers to rearrange their thoughts and generate new ideas.

  5. I too struggle with idleness, in the sense that being idle is wasting precious time, but know from experience that when I allow myself to be idle/bored, I allow thoughts & ideas to permeate…and…’ta da’, problems are solved (even problems I didn’t realise were a problem). For example I’ve suffered from writer’s block for the last few weeks, thought I’d solved the writing problem when I forced myself to sit down and write earlier this week, but yesterday I had a listless sleepy day when I should have been working, and the problem I’d thought was solved had been given enough time to work through the rabble in my brain when my brain wasn’t in it’s usual state of overdrive and multi-tasking and a solution came to me, that was so much better than my original solution earlier this week.

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