Maybe it is the Amish in me, but I have never been good at wasting time. First thing in the morning it seems my mind is alert, and I’m thinking of the next problem to be solved, the next essay to be written, then the next meeting to attend, and the day’s work to be done. Everyone tut tuts at how hard I work, but my response is that I am blessed. I love my work, so while it may be work, it is not drudgery.
While conservatives moan about “the entitlement culture,” the number of people who rely on handouts, rising unemployment and the number of jobs shipped overseas, America is still a nation of workers. We are hard-wired to work hard, and most of us like the accomplishment and reward of honest work. Our culture of busyness extends to our leisure time. We want to play as hard as we work, so vacations, weekends and days off are spent doing something. We are off climbing mountains, visiting museums, hiking, boating, playing games, refining a craft, taking a course, taking up a new language, a new sport, a new hobby or activity. We go nonstop. We work and we play. We play and we work.
If we are religious, we turn our hyperactivity into a kind of religious mania. Religious do-gooders—we are forever starting new apostolates, building new ministries, running about trying to end world poverty, stop abortion, correct politicians, preserve the environment, rescue the perishing, and care for the dying. Obsessed with work and making ourselves useful, we turn our church into a hive of mindless drones humming about the queen. We have become religious workaholics—working for work’s sake and not God’s.
In the midst of this hectic schedule I need to stop, look, and listen. I need to sit and look out my window.
To look out my window several things need to be in place. First, I need my chair. I am not going to glance out the window. I am going to gaze out the window until I am aware of more than what I see. As soon as I do this my body starts to unwind. I am taking deep breaths. My blood pressure is going down.
I am just looking out the window.
That is all.
What am I looking at? A tree. A squirrel. A cardinal and a jay. I see the dog luxuriating in the morning sun. I see a leaf fall. Before too long my mind is in the state where I am thinking of nothing and am therefore open to everything. I am connected with those other living things in “a condition of complete simplicity costing not less than everything.”
The monks say prayer is “wasting time with God,” and St. Benedict says that prayer is “opus Dei”—God’s work. The word “liturgy” means “work of the laity,” so perhaps God’s best work is not all our busy activity for him, but what we might call wasting time with God.
Only a short time of looking out the window reminds me that I am not very good at wasting time. Immediately my busy mind turns to “more important things.” I am desperate to do something else, but force myself to stay and waste time at the window. Then I realize not only that I am addicted to my work, but why I am addicted. With a sad realization I see it is because my work is rewarding. I get strokes. People praise me for my work. I love the attention and low-level adoration. There is no praise and glory in looking out the window and wasting time. No wonder I do not want to do it.
Is that why we work so hard? It’s not only for the money—its for the pride of life. “See what I’ve done! Praise me please! Give me trophies. Tell me what a golden boy I am!”
Golden boy? Golden calf. I have become my own idol.
If so, then such a desperate poison needs an antidote, and I believe the antidote is learning again the gentle art of wasting time.
As I look out the window I look into myself and encounter the “still point of the turning world… a grace of sense, a white light still and moving, erhebung without motion, concentration without elimination, both a new world and the old made explicit.”
Dark areas within are opened to the light. Doors of the heart are unlocked. Reservoirs of ideas are released. Resentments are reconciled. Harbored memories are unbound. “The expense of spirit in a waste of shame” is forgiven and forgotten. Expansive new vistas are viewed, unexpected possibilities are explored, and the moment of time opens into the timeless.
Looking out the window puts everything else in perspective, and I remember that wasting time might just be the very best use of time.
Books on the topic of this essay may be found in The Imaginative Conservative Bookstore.