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What are you NOT DOING? And why don’t we talk about it?

Just had dinner with a friend who recently retired and she mentioned the pressure of everyone needing to know what she is doing. At a time when she is pulling back from activity, she found the inclination was always for others to ask, “So what are you doing now with all this free time?” With a question like this, it’s easy to feel compelled to provide a list of productive, creative activities. To share, in detail, how we are actively and joyfully filling this huge void of time we’ve opened up for ourselves.

Why do we feel we SHOULD be learning to play the guitar, pickling 5 kinds of kimchi or joining a sports league or book club? Didn’t we just STOP working to have more time? And what if that more time might look just like it sounds: more time? Or, “Today I went for a walk by the river. And I ate some cucumbers from my CSA box.” Why doesn’t that sound amazing?!

So what if instead we asked the retired friend, “What is it that you are NOT doing that brings you joy?!”

In yoga there’s an idea called “pratipaksha bhavana” which can mean “do something different or do the opposite thing.” When you retire, haven’t you already done it?! You’ve stopped the desk job or the fire station shift or the client meetings—and all you can do is “something different!” And NOT DOING is certainly "something different." What a time to explore yourself and everything around you! You may have something you do already that you want more time for. You may wake up and decide to clean out the garage (finally!). But you may just want to try doing nothing. Now THAT is hard. THAT is what most of us will have a hard time with, what most of us will avoid asking others about, and what we ourselves might find the most challenging thing ever. What does doing nothing even look like?!

Having dinner with my friend, I most certainly went right to, “So, what are you doing now that you’re retired?” It felt like such an exciting question, the one she’d been waiting to hear as she was approaching retirement. But, really?! After our discussion I realized that this is really an unconscious question. A question I ask because it seems like the right starter question. And yet it may be a question that can put the other person in immediate stress mode wondering, ok, now what do I say that sounds as impressive as the brilliant career I just left?

Thanks to her insight, I can now imagine myself across the table, and I can instantly feel how exhausted that question would make me in that situation. After all the work, all the rush, all the trying to do everything just right and in the right order and on time while raising two kids and getting oil changes … here I am being asked about how I’m “keeping busy”?! Wowza. Nap time needed.

I love having friends who are willing to share these kinds of things. This is how I can learn and how I can do something different. I realize I've already been cultivating conversations about the possibility of my husband retiring in the future, and it always goes something like, “So what is he going to DO? Does he have enough hobbies or activities planned or is he going to sit around all day on his phone?” How insensitive, I see now! He is going to have the time to STOP and do “something different.” After more than 35 years of working, he’s going to have the time to LOOK AROUND. He’s going to have the time to LISTEN, to himself, to everything around him, maybe even to me (let’s not stretch this too far😊)! Will he be able to NOT do things? I guess I will watch and see, whenever it happens!

So why are we so obsessed with people filling up their time with “valuable” activities. Perhaps because we worry WE are not doing ENOUGH? Maybe instead we should be asking “What are you NOT doing now?” No doubt it will be a profound and unexpected question, but certainly better than, “So what productive, creative activities are you using to fill up all that busy-ness you just found a way to escape?” How ridiculous. Weren’t they “busy enough” for a long time? And isn’t it time for something completely different? Instead of making sure they look “busy enough” to gain our approval, what if we just rejoiced in them DOING LESS?💕

Can you stop being obsessed with doing more? Can you stop keeping up with others? Can you stop comparing your activity and excitement against others’ Instagram accounts? How do we find the balance that’s right for each of us? This is the work of yoga. I’m ok if you don’t leave a comment—I get that you are busy!—but I would love it if you did!

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