In a way, Italy’s characteristic and commonplace scioperi, strikes, seem to serve as a built-in cultural reminder for Italians to take a pause now and then and just quiet down. Not that they need the reminder. On the other hand, we do. When was the last time you declared a strike from your daily hectic pace to simply observe? First century Roman philosopher Epictectus once said, “Nature has given us one tongue but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.” His advice apparently spoke to great minds like Leonardo Da Vinci and Nicolo Machiavelli—the former who preferred to observe how birds fly and water falls; the latter who kept his lips sealed while reflecting on politics and human behavior. Important insight often comes not from action, but from inaction— and silencing the mind. We all need to balance our lives with downtime, which is the first thing we cut out in the hustle and bustle of trying to make ends meet in a tough economy. Yet, il dolce fare niente, the sweetness of doing nothing, is the very remedy that can help us get clear on what is really important to us.
From the moment we get up in the morning to the moment we go to bed, it is easy to pollute our days with mindless tasks, and torment our minds with negative thoughts—so much so that we lose track of the passage of time. We frenetically over-schedule ourselves with to-do lists. We ruminate about things we should have said or done and can’t sleep at night as we mentally replay our transgressions.
Perhaps you were one of the many people, who at the start of the New Year, asked themselves, “Where did 2011 go?” Still others look back and sadly ask, “I can’t believe all these years have passed, and I still haven’t done the things I really want to do.” If you get so consumed with the daily mechanics of life that you forget to slow down and savor the good moments, as well as reflect on what can be done about the tough spots, you might try declaring a personal sciopero, and allowing yourself a daily practice of stillness. You’d be surprised what can come of it if you make it a habit.
Convincing people of the value of Il dolce fare niente is not easy in a society whose Puritanical roots promote guilt in response to “ idleness”. Yet it is only through this balance that we can really achieve lasting well-being. Don’t become so busy that you miss out on the insight that comes through the classic Italian practice of stillness and observation. From here on in declare a daily five-minute personal sciopero. Stop whatever you are doing, at a certain time each day, go outside, let the sunshine warm your face, and take a slow deep breath. The rest of the world will just have to wait.
If you love this post and love this self-help blog, with my characteristic Italian flavor, please let those you care about know, so they can read it too. As always, I love hearing from you! Tune in to the Faith Middleton show on WNPR This Friday March 30 at 3PM and/or 9PM to hear my interview with Faith. The show will also be archived online. Mille grazie.