Book Reviews

How to Do Nothing

What steals your attention? Do you feel scattered or have trouble focusing? Perhaps you know that social media is leading you down rabbit holes or making you feel overwhelmed but you can’t stop clicking. My neighborhood book club chose to read this book just as we were beginning the period of Quarantine. I myself, as well as others I knew, were struggling with the feeling that we were not being productive enough during these times. This book discusses not only the things that steal our attention and time (like social media), but the ways in which we judge ourselves and others based on productivity. Reading this book led to a fruitful discussion in our group and we found the chapter on The Ecology of Strangers especially important for what is happening in our world right now.

The Breakdown:

Odell gives a series of essays on the attention economy. She touches on topics such as bioregionalism, why retreating from the world doesn’t work, the power of a refusal, how creative thought develops from boredom, and the need to dismantle what we have hastily created for the sake of progress without considering the context and repercussions.

What I like about this book:

  1. In Chapter 4, she gives some exercises in attention with examples like how exposing ourselves to art out of our comfort zone or staring at something long past initial boredom can build your muscle for attending to the world in a different way.
  2. The encouragement to invest in your neighborhood, taking time to get to know the strangers around you and partake in discussions with people who you would not normally. This opening up to those you may have avoided, opens you up to various perspectives and understandings, and helps us all to see how we are in this together.
  3. The illustrative stories like the one about the Old Survivor tree, give us a new lens on how productive we can be even in our lack of activity.
  4. How we place value illustrated by the I and thou relationship vs the I and it relationship: It says that someone or something is just an object to me judged on its usefulness. Thou says that the someone or something is valuable in and of itself.
  5. Her emphasis on the importance of taking our attention inward with such practices as Deep Listening and walking Labyrinths.
  6. The way she supports her ideas with research and history.

Fair Warning:

  1. This is not a HOW-TO book. It does not teach you how to do nothing (AKA practice mindfulness), although she does give you examples of how she does through art and observing nature.
  2. It is written in academic style and can be a little heady and wordy at times.

Helpful Resources referred to in the book:

Phone App: iNaturalist You can download it and use it to investigate plants and animals around you….thereby drawing your focus away from media and back into the natural world.

You may remember this viral video from 2013 but is worth revisiting.

About the Author: Julie Glaser is a healer who creates sacred spaces for people to share, release, and grow. She’s in the habit of being in awe and wonder and writes to share her own experiences and curiosities with other inquisitive souls in the process of transforming.

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