Spirit Matters: Mastering the Art of ‘Doing Nothing’

Jerrilyn Zavada Novak

In one of my high school video yearbooks, there is footage of me with a group of friends in the library.

(It was 1988, and yes, it was indeed on a VHS tape).

In the clip, my friends are animated and chatty, while I sit on the edge of the group, hand resting on my face, gazing into space.

When I first saw watched this scene as a self-conscious teenager, I berated myself for being so “weird.”

But here I am, nearly 40 years later, often wandering into my own little world in a sea of animated chatter.

As one who easily drifts into quiet, deep thought – indeed, needs it like the air I breathe – I have long felt misunderstood by others. That feeling of being misunderstood is most frustrating and hurtful when it comes from those closest to me.

I have to remind myself that people around me don’t have access to the intricacies of the wilderness inside my brain and heart. They can’t read my thoughts. All they see is me appearing to be lazy, aloof and disconnected from everyone else, which is not at all what I intend.

This is where the empathic ability to read others helps, though not all have the ability or capacity to do so. Being able to read others can help us allow them to be who they are, without meeting our idea of who they should be or what they should be doing.

As a side note, if you are a creative being (like me), or a scholar (not like me), you know these lapses into our own worlds are necessary and vital to being who we are and doing what we do. Creative beings require long periods of unapologetically doing nothing, to allow their ideas to simmer and evolve.

After years of being a people pleaser, I no longer berate myself for being so “weird.”

In fact, I now embrace this part of me that can go into a state of wonder and depth at the drop of a hat.

It took me some years and challenging life experiences to discover vocabulary that sort of describe the qualities on display in the video: introverted, contemplative, introspective, sensory processing sensitivity, the list goes on.

If you don’t know what these words mean, look them up, and know that while they might seem foreign to you, they encompass some beautiful qualities of being, just as other ways of being that are foreign to me have their own value and beauty.

I don’t believe any of us can be categorized into a single label. As the famous poet Walt Whitman wrote: “I am large. I contain multitudes.”

And yet, these labels can help us make sense of who we are and how we live and exist in this world. They can help us find like-minded people with similar interests, and engage with them – so we don’t feel so “weird” among the rest of the world.

And they can ultimately help us find what is ours to do in this world, so we can get on our way of doing it.

Or being it.

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column by Jerrilyn Zavada Novak that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact her at jzblue33@yahoo.com.

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