Chris has been playing a lot of Breath of the Wild – the joys of The Switch is that he can get up and walk away from the TV in the lounge and take the game wherever he goes. I’ve been pulled into a mesmerizing book on my Kindle and find myself using every free minute I can scrounge to read a few more paragraphs. Cass has discovered ‘Educational TV’ on Netflix and relish the moment I say it’s okay to watch a documentary about cats, dolphins or baby elephants.
Electronic escapes is often a lifeline for us. Having a chronic illness creates a lot of downtime with a body unable to do much and a brain unable to process much. Pain is a great mood dampener and finding something distracting to do often saves the day. We appreciate and enjoy our electric pursuits, but it doesn’t take very long for restlessness and a sense of being cooped up to creep in. And so I find Chris putting The Switch down to pop out into the garden on the windiest of days of the year to make a cup of coffee on Coleman’s backpacking stove. It’s not long before Cass follows suit and starts hunting for signs of spring in the garden – checking on the slow worm to see if it’s still hibernating and throwing compost on the plants with budding leaves. I fish out my gardening gloves and start clearing space for new vegetable seeds to be planted when the weather warms up.
We wanted to be in the New Forest, but none of us was up for the drive. It’s a bit disappointing when that happens. Digging in the dirt, I soon had company. Cass carefully covering up all the earthworms again and when we get tired, we stop and do nothing for a while.
It’s an amazing skill, the ability to do absolutely nothing. It takes Chris about two minutes to reach for his phone. ‘Don’t, Cass says, ‘just listen to the wind for a bit and look at the clouds.’ I realise then that it’s been a while since we did absolutely nothing. We didn’t look at the clock, didn’t aim for a goal, didn’t fill every possible minute with as much productivity as is humanly possible. We weren’t walking or cycling or hunting down a spot of outstanding natural beauty. We were just outside in our rather boring and slightly dishevelled looking garden.
Nothing happened. ‘Let’s walk to the woods,’ I said, ‘see if we can spot any squirrels.’ Cass frowned at me, ‘just sit here for a minute and look at the clouds.’ I looked at the clouds. I started talking about the clouds – the different type of clouds, what information you could gleam from them and she interrupted me, ‘Mum, just look for a little while without doing that,’ she said. It was a real challenge.
We program our minds for optimum efficiency. Always heading towards something, aiming for a goal. I’d forgotten how to stop. I think our minds desperately need freedom on a regular basis. Also some fresh air. I used to spend at least fifteen minutes a day outside doing nothing. I’m not sure when I stopped. Sitting on the garden path, I realised I should probably start again.
A neighbour’s cat came by. A bird flew over our heads. The clouds moved swiftly across the sky and the wind rustled the budding leaves. As a child, my mother would let me out into the garden as soon as the first leaves were budding on the willow tree on our lawn. It was the best day of the year for me, regaining my freedom after a cold winter locked up indoors (due to ill health), to be let out into the wild of a large rural garden where I could do nothing and everything for as long as it was light.
We spend too much time indoors. We spend too much time working toward goals and targets, timelines and schedules. Sometimes, I think, we all need to spend an afternoon outside doing absolutely nothing.