the joy of not doing

A few years back, I decided to put myself on the hook and record music to send out with my Christmas cards.

The first record came right after moving to California. I was alone in a strange city and only had my guitar to keep me company. The result was a few covers of songs I really loved, strung together with a few photographs for album art. “These are songs that have helped me navigate the waters of transition over the years,” I wrote in the liner notes.

The second record, distributed the same way the next Christmas, featured move covers and artwork. I even went so far as to make and distribute physical copies–a burned CD slotted in a paper bag with printed liner notes.

While these projects were only ever for me, it was still discouraging when only two or three people downloaded the album each year. But more importantly, the work to release these things became increasingly overwhelming. It had stopped being fun.

Last fall, a friend of mine asked, “You’re going to record another album for Christmas, right?”

“Absolutely,” I said, dreading the idea on in the inside.

I sat down and started to work on songs anyway. I rehearsed songs, wrote lyrics, and began to track guitars. But something about the process didn’t feel right.

Perhaps it was because I felt the need to reflect on the chaos engulfing the world. I felt the need to have the songs say something, even though I wasn’t interested in commenting on anything. We’d all endured so much and none of the words or chords felt like enough–especially for a music I was recording just for a Christmas card.

The process became a chore. The blood didn’t flow there. It wasn’t fun anymore.

I didn’t finish that third album. I didn’t even send Christmas cards. And ultimately, there was an immense amount of joy in not doing these things.

I had a mentor once who said the first and most important role we play in life is that of human being. The roles we take on in our relationships, our work, our creative endeavors, do not define who we are. First and foremost, our job is to exist. We are human beings, not human doings.

There’s a joy in embracing this, in sitting still long enough to acknowledge your being instead of your doing.