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At the time of coronavirus, the art of doing nothing

By Veena Sandhu
April 04, 2020 17:05 IST
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'At a time when our world has been rattled in ways we have never encountered before, these mornings have been my window into a universe where all that matters is living in the moment,' says Veenu Sandhu.
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com

 

Every morning, after he is done with his walk, my dog and I head to a neighbourhood park.

It is not much of a park; just a large plot of Delhi Development Authority land, big enough for a bungalow.

While he strolls around, off the leash in the security of this walled space, I usually pull out my phone for news updates or to see what the world of Twitter is reacting to that morning.

This is not a particularly pleasant habit: The news is seldom upbeat and Twitter is almost always vile, but I indulge in it nevertheless out of the kind of obsession many of us are now familiar with.

One morning a few weeks ago, when things were particularly foul on the microblogging site, I put my phone away in my pocket in disgust and looked up to call for my dog so that we could go home.

For a moment I couldn't spot him, and panicked. And then I saw him at the other end of the park, his head buried in a flower bush.

From where I stood, he appeared to be smelling the flowers -- something I used to do a long time ago, when lawns at homes were not the luxury they are today.

Back in those days I could tell every new bud that had appeared, every flower that had started to bloom in our lawn in our no-frills army accommodation.

A lot of time back then was spent doing what would today be described as nothing. Looking at the flowers and the leaves, or feeling their texture, and arriving at the conclusion that nothing we create can ever come close to the way nature presents it.

Tracing the slow progress of the occasional snail or following an evasive earthworm. Staring at the trees on windy days, at how their branches swayed.

Watching the rain fall, oblivious of the minutes gone by sitting there with not even a book in hand. Just watching.

How it looked as it fell on the road outside the house.

How it appeared under the yellow glow of the streetlight far away.

How the wind pushed it in one direction or the other as it fell.

So many of these images came back to me that morning. And I found myself looking at the park. Really looking. It had been cleaned and freshly laid with grass some months ago. My dog, by now on the grass, was licking dewdrops off its blades.

Scattered here and there were patches of flowers. The gardener, I noticed, had followed his heart -- sprinkled a bunch of purple petunias here and pink ones there; thrown a random cluster of chrysanthemums in one corner; dropped a few yellow and white dog flowers along the boundary wall with no particular thought; and planted an assortment of dahlias in one flowerbed.

Elsewhere in the park, he had grown a solitary marigold bush and placed a batch of tiny pink, purple and white flowers at its feet as though to give it company.

But this gardener -- an artist actually, inclined as he seemed to be to present the beauty of imperfection -- had left one corner untouched. Not out of choice though.

In this corner stood a big red silk-cotton tree that seemed determined not to allow even grass to grow under its flowery canopy.

The ground below it instead was covered with almost as many flowers as it had on its branches above.

So this is what I did in the park that morning: Nothing. And this is what I have been doing in that park every morning since.

My dog and his goofy nose-in-the-flower-bush moment made me realise how much of our time is spent trying to be purposeful, to achieve something, to get somewhere, to be something. And how little of it is spent just being. A pity.

The Japanese, I recently discovered, have a word for this wonderfully rejuvenating art of doing nothing. They call it Boketto, which literally means 'gazing vacantly into the distance without thinking of anything specific'.

It is a rejuvenating, destressing exercise. No, 'exercise' cannot be the word for it. It is too purposeful a word. Boketto is a rejuvenating, destressing state of being.

I am glad I rediscovered these do-nothing moments. At a time when our world has been rattled in ways we have never encountered before, these mornings have been my window into a universe where all that matters is living in the moment.

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