Last summer, Spike Gillespie noticed something peculiar about her friend Steve Eckelman: He seemed perfectly content doing nothing.
It was a novel concept for Gillespie, a prominent local writer, author and wedding officiant who had spent most of her life unable to slow down. How, she wondered, did he do it?
Gillespie and Eckelman, an Emmy-award-winning producer ("Tower"), actor and writer, teamed up to answer that question and offer a roadmap for doing nothing in their new ebook, "Sleeping Bees: Why Doing Nothing Matters." Although it was conceived of and penned prior to the coronavirus pandemic, it is filled with vignettes, shared wisdom and tips that are particularly relevant now as many of us grapple with how to spend our increased hours at home.
We recently chatted with Gillespie and Eckelman about the concept of doing nothing, how to incorporate more nothing into your life and why you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
How did this book come about?
Eckelman: It gestated more from Spike because she had seen me behaving in a way that she thought was intriguing and wanted to try out and experiment and see if that might work for her in some areas. As that progressed in her own life, it turned into a subject for a book.
Gillespie: Around June I read something about the importance of making space for fallow time in your life, not just vacation, but really have it as a habit as an ongoing part of life. When we first met, I didn’t understand the concept of "not doing," and Steve is really good at "not doing." I’ve really changed a lot, but at the outset of the writing, I was in go-go-go mode.
What struggles did you face in doing nothing?
Eckelman: I’ve always been good (at doing nothing), but I never really gave myself permission to because I felt like I was criticized a lot for doing nothing. It got kind of labeled that way. The book’s been a good experience for me to kind of be more sure of myself and to appreciate the way I do things, slowly and purely. I just heard a Navy SEAL quote that I like: "Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast." That’s kind of how I live.
Gillespie: I think maybe the permission part, too. I talk in the book about how Bob (Gillespie’s dear friend, the late Bob Stader, and subject of her book, "The Tao of Bob") would try to get me to slow down and he offered to pay for a housekeeper. I would just tell him, "No, no, no."
Why is doing nothing so important?
Eckelman: In the book we have a section on language and we started playing with words like "nothing matters," and it actually DOES matter, and "nothing is scared," but, wait a second, maybe nothing IS sacred. For me, it’s a wonderful way to live, and it doesn’t steal from any part of my day or any part of my productivity to be aware and embrace doing nothing.
Gillespie: To me, it’s a really serious topic. I can’t go back and change my history, so I’m not going to regret that it took me this long, but I really wish I had understood this concept sooner. It’s not like I’m a fully enlightened being now, but my life is completely different and I’m happy almost every day. Even when I’m having a hard day, I feel so much more relaxed and I feel so grateful that Steve demonstrated to me, "It’s cool, man. You can just hang out." That’s so wild to me. I just did not get that at all.
It can be hard to embrace the idea of doing nothing. What’s the best way to start?
Eckelman: We give ideas for how to tiptoe into this world of nothing. The first thing is to start to be aware, to give yourself permission to use the word nothing, to look at it in a different way. We can start to look at daily activities, like taking a shower or even driving, we can turn off the radio in the car, we can pause in the shower.
Gillespie: We acknowledge you’re never doing nothing. Just being alive is something. For me, when I’m in this flow with writing or even when I’m walking dogs or knitting, swimming, meditating, there is this thing where my mind feels free and at ease and I’m not going over a to-do list in my mind. I’m not multitasking.
How do you feel about multitasking?
Eckelman: Multitasking is inefficient. I’m very much against the ethic of multitasking. I’m not sure how it got started as some great ideal to strive for. For me, multitasking makes me become sloppy and I get nothing done.
What things in your life force you to slow down?
Eckelman: I swim at Deep Eddy. About seven years ago, I didn’t know how to swim and I started out by walking laps. The first day I did that a lady stopped me and said, "What are you doing?" I said, "I’m working out." She said, "No, you’re not. You need to swim." I said, "I don’t know how to do the breathing." She said, "Just get a swimmer’s snorkel." I said, "But I’m still afraid of panicking under water." She said, "When that happens, stand up." Then I said, "What are you doing?" She said, "I’m getting in shape for chemotherapy." I was dumbfounded, and I never saw that wonderful woman again. The next day I bought a swimmer’s snorkel and I’ve swum probably a mile a day since then. For me, swimming is also part of doing nothing. At some point in the water I get to a total relaxed emotionally and physically meditative state.
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Gillespie: (After meeting Steve) I started going to Barton Springs every day. We started writing the book and there’s some irony here because I would want to work on the book, but writing about doing nothing made me want to do nothing more. I wanted to move at my usual breakneck pace of working, but I also wanted to go hang out at Barton Springs. Now that’s become a part of my life.
What aspects of your life did you have to change to embrace nothing?
Eckelman: When someone would ask me, "What are you doing today?" and I would say, "Nothing," they would do a second take, like, "Are you sure you really wanted to say that to me?" It’s about permission and courage and realizing that I already might be doing a lot of nothing. And recognizing that within the times I am busy and say I am busy, I can be aware of the micropauses of the day.
Gillespie: Permission is so important. It’s not wrong, it’s not bad, not only to give ourselves permission to not-do, but permission to set aside these cultural demands that were a certain way. Don’t care what other people think.
Were you grateful that you had trained yourself to do nothing when the coronavirus hit?
Gillespie: I was so thankful. My heart really goes out to people who are suffering and lost their jobs and are sick; I’m not being cavalier in any way about this. But I personally was glad we had talked and thought and written about this subject because, given my own background, I’m prone toward anxiety and deep depression and all of that. If I hadn’t examined the topic of nothing and incorporated it into my own life, I might be suffering a lot now. I’ve had a couple grumpy days, but mostly I’ve been steady on.
You all bumped up the release date and made "Sleeping Bees" available for free as an ebook. What do you hope people get out of it?
Eckelman: Everybody is on the front lines here, even if you’re staying at home all day. Our hope is somebody can get something out of it — hopefully it can help make you appreciate doing nothing.
Gillespie: My wish is that, and this is hard for people who have to worry about how to pay their rent or not having a job, but I wish everyone can see this as a period where it’s OK to do nothing. People are putting up posts, like now’s the time to learn a new language or get your bikini body ready. My thought was I just hope that people can adjust to this pace and enjoy it. Once we’re back to whatever normal is, I have a hunch people are going to miss the part of the quarantine that was slowing down.