Reclaiming listlessness

I’m just back from a few days away.  The best and most restful thing has been having a break from the mental ‘to do’ list. Most of us have these lists, either in our heads, in a notebook or on one or more scraps of paper (dangerously easy to mislay).  We know that a written list is a fundamentally good thing – enabling us to articulate worries or gain relief from the stress of mentally ‘holding’ things that we need to achieve at some point in the future.  

One of the brilliant things I did last week was take a trip to the British Museum.  There are plenty of written lists there – lists of ancestors, military conquests, gods, rules and some very mundane lists, very like the one I have beside me (paprika, toothpaste, birthday present for S – that kind of thing).  These ancient lists have been vital in enabling experts to decipher and explore ancient scripts and understand the beginning of written language itself. For me, the day to day lists are particularly powerful: a connection with the lives and concerns of human beings who lived many years before us but are ultimately the same. 

Thinking about lists and how liberating it is to be without them for a while made me reconsider the word ‘listless’, which we usually define as ‘without interest or energy’. The word has nothing to do with lists and comes from the same root as ‘lust’, so it’s all about desire or interest.  I love the evolution of language, so this is very interesting, but I can’t help feeling a bit sad about listlessness being such a generally undesirable state. I’d like to propose an alternative meaning, something along the lines of ‘a rejuvenating sense of freedom from day to day duties’.

Travelling back home, I was thinking about the occasions in our lives when we are ‘listless’ (in the positive sense).  Interestingly, they are usually the times when we’re absorbed in something that relieves us from our relentless predisposition to plan.  And of course, that’s what yoga offers us, from a short meditation practice, through to a weekend retreat and ultimately through a dedication to yoga as a mindful, present and more ‘listless’ way of life. I’m going to find more opportunities for the freeing, nourishing state of ‘listlessness’ – essentially, more being and less doing.  If you’d like to join me, do think about the Reconnection Retreat we’re hosting from 8th to 10th May 2020.  Or consider setting an intention to find a ‘listless’ pause in each day, a space for being present in the here and now, no planning, just being. 

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