Yoga Barbados

Practising the art of inactivity

At a fortuitous meeting, an exceptional doctor suggested to my husband that he should “practice the art of inactivity.” My husband, who is trying to overcome post-surgery complications after the removal of a tumour in his oesophagus, has not eaten anything since 15 January. He is fed by stomach tube and is attached to a feeding pump for 19 hours a day. He is now trying to tolerate 15 mls of liquid every 15 minutes without coughing.

So the kind doctor’s admonition to inactivity was a gentle and different way of saying, “Be patient.” Or, “Time heals all wounds.”

Although my husband can’t be certain of the latter.

Western society doesn’t support practising this art of inactivity, it wants you to practise the art of productivity. Do more in less time.

So you have more time to do more.

Who has the time, to make time, to do nothing? (Which reminds me of yet another great quote: “Everyone should meditate for 20 minutes a day and, if you don’t have 20 minutes, you should meditate for an hour.”

As we age, this “art of inactivity” is gradually foisted upon us through loss of our own physical strength, endurance and flexibility – but an illness or accident can force this unfamiliar practice upon us immediately.

Making it difficult to bear.

My husband bears this “art of inactivity” by losing himself in episode after automatically-loading episode of past seasons of the American reality TV show, Survivor (the irony of whose title isn’t lost on him).

But I don't have the art of inactivity foisted upon me; I have to consciously make myself take – or make – time for it.

My coping response is the polar opposite to “practising the art of in activity” I busy myself with the “caring” tasks for him, like pouring three teaspoons every 15 mins of smoothie or soup into a small glass and taking it for him where he’s anchored to his feeding pump. I’m the ultimate “fetcher” and when I’m not fetching I’m trying to make myself “useful” in a situation where I truly feel “useless”.

So with effort to take “care” of myself I try "practising the art of Inactivity” through my meditation or simply sitting quietly on my own and being aware of how I’m feeling.

Which usually raises a lot of sadness.

Which can be hard to bear.

But it also allows release.

My mother-in-law, who will be 88 this month and has a better posture than most 18-year-olds, takes all these complicated thoughts I wrestle with in her stride, saying “Child, old age is a bitch. What you gonna do?”

I do yoga.

Including meditation.

Typical basic meditation is essentially this art of inactivity of the body and the mind. Sage Patanjali says Yogas Chitta vritti nirodhah: Yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of mind.

And this can only be done through the stillness of the body.

And, for me, the acceptance of this one truth:

The gift of “practicing the art of inactivity” cannot be received through resentment and resistance.

Only by acceptance and surrender.