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The Sweetness Of Doing Nothing

Aperture #1 by Epiphanio Alexander. 36″x 48″ Oil impasto on Board with UV Gloss Varnish.

I had an Italian friend who taught me an invaluable lesson just by being himself. I haven’t seen him in years, don’t know what he’s up to now but my friend, he knew how to enjoy every moment.

I don’t know if all Italians can cook pizza like him, but his was legendary. One time we were both working at a community event: he was cooking the pizza, I was selling it and we had a queue of 10 to 15 people all the time throughout the 10 or so hours that the event lasted.

At some point I was freaking out, the pizza wasn’t cooking as fast as it was selling and the queue was getting longer, so I walked up to the kitchen to find my friend totally relaxed, laughing, drinking his wine and chatting to his heart’s content.

It pissed me off… “Wasn’t he aware that we’re at least 15 pizzas behind?, this is serious, people had already paid us” I thought, “this is why it’s taking so freakin’ long… he’s not on top of it!” So I walked up to him and in more of a vibe than with words I scolded him:

“Dude!, what are you doing?, we’re getting close to being 20 pizzas behind and you’re here chatting the time away… come on man, you need to keep it up!”

My vibe was so controlling that he just quivered and replied: “Ok, yes…” or something like that and kind of got back to work but I could feel that I had effectively stepped on a boundary. The people he was chatting with just looked at me with an expression of …chill dude!

I’ve heard that chaos is a common thing in kitchens and while many restaurants are successful, there are many more which are not. After the event, I couldn’t stop thinking: “Why was my friend’s pizza so successful? …only his friends had tried his pizza before, it wasn’t a famous recipe and he didn’t own a restaurant. Why was his pizza so good?, I mean it had good ingredients but it was way beyond that… It was epic!”

I contemplated on this throughout the years and I can’t help to think that it had to be something invisible that he himself had and somehow it ended up in the pizza too.

Many years later, I found out that this is actually an Italian thing, it is called “La Dolce Far Niente” which translates to: “The Sweetness Of Doing Nothing”, the Chinese version of this would be “Wu Wei” “The Art Of Doing Nothing” and I believe that my friend was the embodiment of this concept.

You would never see him rushing to do or end anything, he always took as much time as he wanted to enjoy every bite of food I saw him eat, every word he spoke and everything he did. It was as if hanging out with him grounded you in a timeless suave state.

I used to think that my friend had all the time in the world because he was a bachelor with no serious responsibilities…and he was Italian after all. That is, until many years later I saw another friend of mine emanate the same vibrational knowledge. The big difference is that my friend is a Mexican divorced dad with 2 teenager boys!

As you can imagine, my friend is on the go all day. His job has him go from place to place all throughout the day and every time I’ve seen him engage in conversation with anyone, he’s always present and enjoying the interaction, he never rushes, always bringing in laughter and jolly wherever he goes. This doesn’t mean that he doesn’t deal with his problems like everyone else, he just doesn’t dwell on them or dump them on other people. In between work appointments and kids soccer practice, he goes home and cooks, I mean the dude is always cooking! Every time I go to his house, he’s always feeding a horde of kids and next thing you know there’s a plate of munchings next to you! …I keep thinking how does he do it? I can barely hold a conversation and check a text at the same time!

I believe this is the embodiment of “La Dolce Far Niente” —The Sweetness Of Doing Nothing, which in psychology is called Mindfulness. But it’s more than the words, it is vibrational knowledge, the real knowledge that you gain by living, and both my friends have it.

For me, the learning of this knowledge came while I was going through my darkest days and in no manner I suggest that this is the only way to learn it, but this is how it happened to me…

Somewhere by the beginning of 2014, the years of new age teachings, channels and conspiracy theories had me going on my way to insanity. Every time I’d be walking down the street worried about the myriad of problems that may or may not be real, the end of the world and humanity as we know it, things would get weird: homeless people would look at me with creepy smiles, crackheads would stop and give me cryptic diatribes, fights would erupt around, car alarms would go off, traffic lights would stop, ambulances, police vehicles and fire trucks would show up out of nowhere…

I’d run to my studio and visualize ninjas standing guard at my door while I tried to nap just so the panic attack would fade away into my dreams. I knew I was going cuckoo, but I also knew this was something no one I know could help me with, so I decided to wage war on this madness on my own.

As the months passed, the battle kept getting harder and harder. I now had a whole squad of ninjas set up camp in the hallway and I’d visualize an entourage to follow me everywhere …lol! Not only was all this crap not working, but it was making me more paranoid!

The panic attacks came to a climax one day when I was shivering and sweating like a pig in a slaughterhouse. I kept waking up from nightmares, my whole body was vibrating but not in a good way. It had been taking so much energy to focus on my protective visualizations and hold them in place that I felt depleted and terrified of the realization that I would not be able to keep this up for much longer. I had run out of options…

This is when I surrendered to my fate: there was no way I was going to end up in the loony bin, so I began to contemplate my only other available option… suicide, and believe it or not, the thought gave me peace.

During the following months I found out that every time I thought of death, my paranoia would subside as if the fear that I’ve been trying to live with could only last until my acceptance of death. This is how I realized that my “insanity” was really just my fear of death reaching the limits. Now, as alluring as this sounded, I didn’t want to kill myself. The contemplation of death gave me peace, but I wanted to live!

One of the side effects of this weird solace I had found was that after thinking of my death, I always felt empty but in a good way, like I’ve been holding my breath under water for so long and suddenly I was getting a breath of fresh air. In that moment there is no thought and you’re present, mindful if you will.

So I sat there with my new found peace and did nothing… I thought: “let the armies come in and take over, I can’t fight them anymore.”

In a moment I surrendered, not to insanity, fate or the monsters but I surrendered my need to control everything, to be on top of everything. In a way I came to terms with my obsession with being good and its unavoidable polarity backlash swing of negativity.

It still took a few more years to find out and pluck the personal root of this fear and completely be at peace with it but that story will be for another day. At this point, it was “nothing” what gave me just enough clarity to look for an exit, which eventually led me to painting as a source for my own healing.

(*read about How Creativity Saved My Life).

Now, when I see everyone running from here to there, I feel compassion… always late, always something to do, no time to have a meaningful interaction with a “non-important” someone. In this fast moving world we go fast, fast, fast… we don’t know where we’re going but it has to be done by yesterday, everything has to be under control or else… What? …No one knows, but there’s definitely no time to enjoy the moment, no time for “doing nothing”.

I feel compassion for all the stressed people I see running around because I know what lurks behind the rush, the need to accomplish and the “be someone” crap. It is the fear of our own death that haunts us at every turn and it is only until you face your monster and let it do its thing, that you will know peace. I had heard this philosophy for years but I never knew what it meant until the very day I surrendered my need to control everything.

…I wonder… if today I were to help my friend sell his pizzas and we had a line that went around the block, I don’t think I’d hesitate to have a moment to enjoy “La Dolce Far Niente” when I catch him chilling in the kitchen …what the heck, if we’re so successful that we can’t match the demand, then big deal!, I’ll just give them a refund. There is no better time to enjoy “The Sweetness Of Doing Nothing” than now. ;)

-Epiphanio.

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