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Mindful : June 2013
When was the last time you really goofed off ? All the dictionar y definitions of this phrase are negative: “shirking work or responsibility,” “to waste time.” But to me, goofing off simply means activity with no redeeming value—it satisfies no “should.” You do it without excuses; there is no justification. Goofing off like this is harder than it sounds because it means acting without a goal, without thought of gain. Doing your ca rdio workout doesn’t count. Real goofing off may provoke reactions in oth- ers—a little censure, even envy—precisely because it is hard for us to do. From an early age we are conditioned against shirking, a nd that conditioning doesn’t stop. We are even told that rela xing is a proj- ect we have to work at: “Choose to practice relax- ation,” I read in one book. “Make these relaxation tools work for you. Regula r, consistent practice is essential if you wa nt to gain ma ximum benefit from these skills.” Dancing in the park on a summer evening is goof- ing off. Walking 10,000 steps a day with a pedometer is not. There’s nothing wrong with walking 10,000 steps a day—it’s good for you. But worrying all the time about what’s good for you is not. The pressure we feel to be doing something, anything, all the time, is intense. Modern life, even at its most ordinar y, is rich with temptation and possibility. Our days are filled with the promise of little extras. So many things we could be doing instead of what we a re doing—or, worse perhaps, on top of what we a re already doing. We feel such pressure to be connect- ed—to spend time on social media or stay current with news and events or the changing culture or just the details of ma ny other people’s lives. Add in fa mi- lies, work, travel, exercise, volunteering, meditation practice, the my riad ma intenance activities of day- to-day life, and what you might call enrichment—the oil painting class, practicing your Spanish—and your day is full. If you’re anything like me, there are times you feel powerless about this. It’s not my fault that I’m so busy, I think. So much of this busy ness feels externally imposed—because I’m forgetting how much of it I’ve actually chosen. But I don’t want to waste time. I don’t wa nt to shirk. I’m convinced there is an addictive property to all this effort, this stimulation. Addiction is what happens when you need to insulate or buffer your- self against experience or sensation. Social media, multitasking, even enrichment can be very effective at this. Updating Facebook and sending Twitter messages is unproductive (they’re virtual for a → June 2013 mindful 61