Here’s a mental exercise to try in these distressing, distractible times: Fill a bathtub with warm water. Take off your clothes. Step in. And, here’s the truly challenging part: Do it in the middle of the day.
Don’t bring a book, or candles, or wine, or an $8 bath bomb, or even music. Do not, under any circumstances, bring a phone.
How does it feel? Brazen, as though you’re getting away with something? It may feel like playing hooky, telling a lie, and wasting money, all at once. Until it doesn’t, and then it feels like permission.
The first time I took a bath in the middle of the day, I felt as though I was on my deathbed. Actually, I was fine. But the act of splaying prone in a vat of water in broad daylight on a perfectly nice day felt at first like a grotesque spectacle of lethargy, of helplessness, of weakness — something one should only do when very ill, or very old, or both.
When was the last time you lay very still in a small, warm body of water and stared at the ceiling?
A day bath? In this economy? Capitalism makes the idea appalling — sickening, even. Idle leisure has a terrible ROI.
It was a January afternoon, and the austere winter sun streamed in through my bathroom window, highlighting the porcelain of the tub like polished bone. I lay there for an hour or maybe two, occasionally letting the water cool enough to meet the temperature of the air, and allow me to float in the interstitial.
“To do nothing is to hold yourself still so that you can perceive what is actually there,” writes Jenny Odell, the artist and “How to Do Nothing” author, in her 2017 Medium post. I noticed the way the milky light scattered across the water’s surface. I noticed how the sounds of the water lapping against me were both crisp and soft, like the best ASMR.
Try it! Maybe you’ll notice the light doing funny things, or the sky shifting colors. Maybe your observations will go deeper — maybe, as Odell posited, “the granularity of attention…