Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, and the Virtue of Doing Nothing

Christopher Robin, Winnie the Pooh, and the Virtue of Doing Nothing August 5, 2018

With the release of the film Christopher Robin, I was reminded of a piece on “doing nothing” I wrote a few years ago, inspired by my book, “The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh.” We can be productive without being busy and creative with creating crises. And, so I invite you to return to the 100 Aker Wood and wonder of simply being.

One afternoon many years ago, Christopher Robin and Winnie the Pooh reflected about what happens when a child begins school and starts to grow up. Christopher Robin lamented that he will no longer be able to respond to the question, “What are you doing?” with the words, “Nothing.” Growing up means schedules and commitments and fewer hours for joyful meandering without purpose in the 100 Aker Wood. There is, of course, much to be gained in growing up in terms of knowledge and skills. Yet, something is also lost, the innocence of spontaneity and the ability to live an unprogrammed life. Is it possible to find a lively balance of order and chaos, intentionality and living in moment, planning and letting go, as part of a whole life? Can the overly busy and stressed-out Christopher Robin return to the joyful activity of the Wood?

Now, nearly a century after Winnie the Pooh was written, even young children’s lives have become programmed between sports and after school playdates. Children seldom get the chance to do “nothing” or to spend a summer without classes and camps. On a daily basis, parents shuttle their children to afterschool sports practice and music lessons. Some of this, of course, reflects changes in family life, technology, and culture. Still, the 24/7 world characteristic of many persons’ lifestyles is unhealthy for adults, children, and the playful child that still lives deep within us. There are times we simply need to do “nothing” and have space to breathe and go through a day without any plans other than happily meandering from one encounter to another, reading a good book, or immersing ourselves in the wonders of nature and realities that neither “toil nor spin.”

Doing nothing is countercultural and may give you the reputation of being a slacker, but a healthy, dynamically balanced life emerges from the integration of purpose and purposelessness, planning and synchronicity, and intentionality and open-endedness. As John Lennon avers, “Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”
In religious circles, there is a place for doing nothing, and it’s called Sabbath. During times of Sabbath rest, we resign from being god or goddess, let go of control, respect the enduring realities of life which go forward regardless of what we do, and rest in God’s blessings. The Jewish tradition even suggests that God takes a Sabbath to make room for human creativity and freedom. An over-functioning God, supervising and closely determining our every move, sucks the air of creation. Although God is omnipresent, God’s presence is often a subtle and gentle providence, which doesn’t control but chooses to let go so we can grow.

Imagine doing nothing! Imagine spending a day meandering and joyfully encountering with world with fresh eyes. That’s the point of the Mary Oliver’s prayerful poem, “A Summer Day”:

Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean–
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down–
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?

Now an adult, Christopher Robin, has nearly forgotten the Wood. He has been entranced by reality -that is, overscheduling, deadlines – not life lines – and by pure chance, he rediscovers time as full and spacious. Deep down, Christopher Robin wants to have time in which he, like the poet, is simply “idle and blessed.” Living life, pausing, noticing, opening, responding, and blessing. Christopher Robins wants to receive as well as give, to contemplate as well as act, and to play as well as plan. He wants to enjoy the summer day, his daughter, and his marriage.

Sabbath-keeping is often seen as rule-bound – a matter of “blue laws,” restrictions, and prohibitions instead of an agile and playful time of creative freedom. Sabbath, whether on Saturday, Sunday, or any other day of the week is about bathing your senses in the wonder of life and letting beauty flow through ever portal. It’s about room to roam, geographically and imaginatively, embedded in this glorious now.

In the film, Christopher Robin experiences a conversion. He rediscovers his deepest self, the deeper realities, of joy and wonder. He will still go to work, but work will no longer be everything. Christopher Robin knows that as an adult he will have to snatch time for Sabbath in a world of plans and schemes. So, do we. Ironically, we need to plan for Sabbath – to turn off the phone, abandon the internet, forget the calendar – and let life pass us by for a few hours. Lord knows, the world will catch up with us soon enough and there will e-mails needing response, appointments to be made, and tasks to be completed. But in those holy hours of doing nothing our spirits will be replenished and we will discover new perspectives on our daily lives. We will see the world with fresh eyes and recalibrate our priorities. We will reset our spiritual GPS, and may learn that emptiness is as important as fullness and that saying “no” to some things enables us to say “yes” to others. Time will slow down and our senses will be reawakened in the quiet and restful center that gives meaning to our cyclonic lives. By doing nothing everything will fall in place and time will become a sanctuary of the spirit rather than a race to be run.

Author, pastor, teacher, and beachcomber, and grandparent, Bruce Epperly lives on Cape Cod. For more on Winnie the Pooh and his adventures, see Bruce Epperly, “The Gospel According to Winnie the Pooh”, Noesis Books, 2016.

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