Asher on Aspen: Dolce Far Niente | AspenTimes.com
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Asher on Aspen: Dolce Far Niente

Shannon Asher
Asher on Aspen
Spending time at home during social distancing measures allows you to finally take time to revel in the sweet art of doing nothing.
Getty Images/iStockphoto | iStockphoto

When I was 20, I studied abroad in northern England. I moved there without knowing a soul. I was completely out of my comfort zone and it took some time for me to adjust and make friends. Eventually, I befriended a sweet Italian woman who was a classmate of mine. She was extremely intelligent and wildly creative.

Whenever I asked her what she was doing, she would often respond with the beautiful Italian phrase “dolce far niente” (“the sweet art of doing nothing”).

It is the act of enjoying pleasant idleness without a care in the world. The phrase didn’t resonate with me at the time and I never understood how there was an art to doing nothing. I wanted to be productive and get things done. The phrase was completely foreign to my thinking and ways of life. It never quite made sense to me — until now.

As an extreme extrovert, I have been struggling with this concept of social distancing. I thrive off of social interactions and the company of my friends here in town. With the coronavirus being out of my control, I decided to focus on what I could control. It was day three or four of the quarantine when I finally came around to the notion that there could be positive outcomes from this bizarre time.

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I poured myself a strong cup of coffee and sat down at my kitchen table to make a list — when in doubt, I always make lists. I wrote down all the chores and things that I wanted to get done around the house. Then, I made a separate list of all the leisurely things I wanted to experience during this time of isolation. The second list included books to read, movies to watch, albums and podcasts to listen to, and new skills that I wanted to work on.

Or, I should say, the one skill I’ve wanted to focus on for a long time: guitar. Ever since I was a kid, I have been intrigued with the guitar. My mother had one from college that she kept in its case under her bed. When I was in sixth grade, I finally asked her to teach me how to play. She didn’t play it much, but she knew the basics of how to get me started. After learning a couple chords, she pulled out sheet music for a classic Elvis song and challenged me to attempt it. This kept me busy for a couple hours and I played and played until my fingers felt callused and numb. The next day I reasoned that, since my fingers were sore, I shouldn’t play anymore. I didn’t pick up another guitar again until college.

Life got away from me and I didn’t stick with it. I always made the excuse that I needed to do something more important. Something that would mean something — that would get me somewhere in life. All this time later, I’m still just as infatuated with learning how to play the guitar.

So, here I am today with all this time on my hands being stuck inside where I can finally devote the time to learning how to play properly — and all I can think about is my sweet Italian friend who I know would be cheering me on right now. I am forcing myself to sit down and practice for 30 minutes each day.

For the first time in my life, I am focusing my energy on dolce far niente.

Maybe it’s not guitar for you. Maybe you have always wanted to learn a new language or become known for your cooking skills. Maybe you just really want to clean out the hall closet — something you’ve been meaning to do for years. Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of writing a novel, starting your own business or going back to school. Or, maybe it’s as simple as calling a friend who you haven’t spoken with in years. No more excuses. Now is our time.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in life that we forget that we don’t always have to be busy; we don’t always need to be checking our email or rushing to the next activity or meeting. It’s important to remind ourselves that it’s absolutely necessary to slow it all down every so often. To while away the hours by simply lying on the couch and listening to an album from start to finish. To watch the sunset. To enjoy the smell of a burning candle. We need this time and space to feel inspired and allow for a reset in our lives.

I can’t help but wonder if this is the universe’s way of trying to get us to slow down. To stop the glorification of being busy. To stop producing things and let the Earth breathe a little without all the extra pollution we create on a daily. What if this is all part of the grand scheme of things and although it may feel restricting and lonely at times — maybe this is what everyone needs to recharge their batteries and reset their outlook on life.

When we come out from the other side of this thing, I hope we all feel rejuvenated and enriched. I hope we notice the little things a bit more because they are never as little as we think. I hope we spend more time reveling in the sweet art of doing nothing. Dolce far niente!


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