In this time of quarantine, many of us are being forced to stillness. These words from Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat, Pray, Love, capture the art of 'the beauty of doing nothing'...
"Americans have an inability to relax into sheer pleasure. Ours is an entertainment-seeking nation, but not necessarily a pleasure-seeking one. Americans spend billions to keep themselves amused with everything from porn to theme parks to wars, but that's not exactly the same thing as quiet enjoyment. Americans work harder and longer and more stressful hours than anyone in the world today. Alarming statistics show that many Americans feel more happy and fulfilled in their offices than they do in their own homes.
'Il bel far niente' means “the beauty of doing nothing.” The beauty of doing nothing is the goal of all your work, the final accomplishment for which you are most highly congratulated. The more exquisitely and delightfully you can do nothing, the higher your life's achievement."
I passed a few hours once in the middle of October that might look like nothing much to the outside observer, but which I will always count amongst the happiest in my life. I found a market near my apartment, only a few streets over from me, which I'd somehow never notice before. There I approached a tiny vegetable stall with one Italian woman and her son selling a choice assortment of produce-- such as rich, almost algae-green leaves of spinach, tomatoes so red and bloody they looked like a cow's organs, and champagne-colored grapes with skins as tight as a showgirl’s leotard. I selected a bunch of thin, bright asparagus.
I walked home to my apartment and soft-boiled a pair of fresh brown eggs for my lunch. I peeled the eggs and arranged them on a plate beside the seven stalks of asparagus (which were so slim and snappy they didn't need to be cooked at all). I put some olives on the plate, too, and the four knobs of goat cheese I'd picked up yesterday from them fromaggeria down the street, and two slices of pink, oily salmon. For dessert-- a lovely peach, which the woman at the market had given to me for free and which was still warm from the Roman sunlight. For the longest time I couldn't even touch this food because it was such a masterpiece of lunch, a true expression of the art of making something out of nothing. Finally, when I had fully absorbed the prettiness of my meal, I went and sat in a patch of sunbeam on my clean wooden floor and ate every bite of it, with my fingers, while reading my daily newspaper article in Italian. Happiness inhabited my every molecule."
So perhaps it's time for us to relish these small moments of happiness, this period of hibernation, incubation, restoration--until it's time to emerge anew.