By Kerry Slavens
I had big plans for my recent week-long getaway to Hornby Island. “I’m going to write every day,” I told anyone who asked. I stuffed my laptop and research books into my suitcase and off I went with my scheme to spend my days writing.
But then I did exactly nothing. Nada. Zilch.
I woke every morning with plans to write, and then my plans just faded away like the early morning mist from the beach stretching out in front of our cabin.
The first day there, I felt guilt about what I “should” be doing. By day two, I got defensive when my husband asked me how the writing was going. But by day three, I had become defiant. “No one can force me to write if I don’t feel like it,” I told myself.
Instead, I gave in to the magic of Hornby Island. I got up early and strolled along the country lane bordering the farm, visiting the pregnant cow and her yearling and watching the eagles ride the sea winds. When the mist burned off, I would cross the log over the creek and head to the beach for hours, reading poetry or exploring. Many days, I didn’t even see another human until my husband returned in the early evening from guitar camp.
My days in the cabin between beach and farm ended up being one of the most relaxing getaways I’ve had since those endless, golden summers of my childhood. The Italians have a phrase for this kind of idleness: la dolce far niente, which translates into the sweetness of doing nothing.
And it is sweet.
It’s also something we don’t value enough in a go-go-go society hooked on what author Andrew Smart calls the “culture of effectiveness.” In his book Autopilot, Smart argues that a resting state is essential for creativity and memory retention.
“In our hysterical rush to make money, gain status, compete for scarce jobs, jockey for promotions …,” he writes, “we are suppressing our brain’s natural ability to make meaning out of experience.”
And so on Hornby Island, I stopped doing, planning and striving. I gave into la dolce far niente, allowing my brain to idle. Though I didn’t act on it then and there, creativity began to bloom in me.
“Everything in nature invites us constantly to be what we are,” wrote essayist and poet Greta Ehrlich. I reflected on her words as the world came to life all around me: the purple wildflowers suddenly there in the meadow one morning, the new calf in the field being tended by her mother and sister, the meanderings of dozens of goslings born to several pairs of Canada Geese.
It’s easy to find the sweetness of life on vacation. The key, as I’m realizing, is to discover it in our daily lives, amidst traffic jams and grocery lineups. It’s harder to find, but it’s there, just waiting for you to slow down, breath deeply and notice.
This article is from the July/August 2019 issue of YAM.