August 10, 2012

The Importance Of Idleness

Medieval scholar Yoshida Kenko writing Essays In Idleness

Idleness has negative connotations in most industrialized countries where busyness is the norm. This could be the result of busybodies telling us that "idleness is active selfishness". Yikes! Who would want to do that? Well, many people, actually, including creative types of all stripes.

There is good reason that artists have traditionally sought out retreats in quiet, beautiful places. Such settings, with their relaxed schedules are conducive to the creative process. An essential part of the equation is idleness. Creative types know that down time is essential to doing what they do. It is no different for the rest of us.

We may associate idleness with the avoidance of work, but the thing is, idleness IS work. It may not look like work, and it may be enjoyable, non-sweaty work, but it is work none-the-less. It is brain work of the most important kind.

Yoshida Kenko, a medieval Japanese author and Buddhist monk, wrote of the importance of idleness, or leisure:

"I wonder what feelings inspire a man to complain of 'having nothing to do.' I am happiest when I have nothing to distract me and I am completely alone. People are all alike: they spend their days running about frantically, oblivious to their insanity."

Kenko wrote about being marveled that he could spend whole days at his writing desk "with nothing better to do, jotting down at random whatever nonsensical thoughts that have entered my mind".

His capacity for taking advantage of the power of idleness resulted in written works that are still studied by Japanese high school students.

Tim Kreider, an American cartoonist, takes a similar approach to idleness, and one that NBA readily endorses:
"Idleness is not just a vacation, an indulgence or a vice; it is as indispensable to the brain as vitamin D is to the body, and deprived of it we suffer a mental affliction as disfiguring as rickets. The space and quiet that idleness provides is a necessary condition for standing back from life and seeing it whole, for making unexpected connections and waiting for the wild summer lightning strikes of inspiration — it is, paradoxically, necessary to getting any work done."

Spend some time in idleness today, and get work done. 


  1. Author Tom Hodgkinson wrote a whole about on the subject and has a magazine called "The Idler" ! :)

    1. Thank you - The Idler is great. I found this Olympics-related quote (that reflects my feelings perfectly) on Hodgkinsons's site:

      “Nicholas Lezard loved London. Then the 2012 Olympics came along. Suddenly his beloved city was invaded by über-people in branded sportswear who had contorted their bodies into odd shapes in order to run a bit faster, or throw things a bit further. Not to mention armies of reptilian brand-managers, chancers and corporate cheerleaders all wanting to cash in, as a blameless piece of the East End was turned (at tear-inducing cost) into one huge folly.”

      Read more about idleness and antidotes to sporting fever here:


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