Post-Talk Thoughts: Curtis & Carly on Doing Nothing

A small group of keeners braved the snow storm this past March 15 to come out and partake in the informal conversation being led by Curtis Murphy and Carly Gaylor, two young Unitarian ministers who will soon be starting their own “slow ministry” in Hamilton Ontario.

As the third in the series of Talking About Nothing With… this was Curtis and Carly’s first time “giving ministry” (as it were) as a duo, taking the opportunity to test the waters as a couple. (What can I say, I am so honoured!)

And so, a short presentation by Carly and then by Curtis was followed by an animated conversation over tea and homemade banana bread – excellent items to be consuming in a storm.

Here below, a smattering of some of the bite-sized reflections that were shared…

First off, before we even got there, I was at my partner’s place during which time he was teasing me for not cancelling the talk. “Everything is closed today because of the snow, even McGill University! And you’re still having your talk?! You are so determined.” To which I replied, “Yeah… it’s because it’s in the evening and it’s inside (unlike most of my other gatherings, which are more weather-sensitive because of taking place outdoors). People will have had time to shovel, and we’ll be cozy in the DARE-DARE trailer.”

Then, as if on cue, Curtis appeared (he and Carly are temporarily my partner’s roommates while Curtis finishes up seminary school) and he says: “Well, everyone has something to do, so all their somethings are cancelled. But have nothing to do. So there’s nothing to cancel.”


More quotes from Curtis:

“This whole ‘work/life balance’ idea needs to be revisited; it assumes that work is separate from life…We’re starting from a terrible place if work is not a part of life.”

“We’re experimenting with a Digital Sabbath; how it is we make less screen time in our downtime. It started when I asked myself, ‘What’s the thing that I default to which is taking me away from what I really want to do?’ When you take away the default mode (in my case and for many people, reverting to a computer or tablet, or phone) it leaves room for something else. So at first when I began limiting my internet use I had lots of anxiety. But then that eventually gave way to huge space – to more time…!”

“Often we’re struggling against the currents in our own lives, of everything circulating around us, in order to do nothing, or less, or slow…”

And Carly shared an anecdote which for her represented a definitive moment in her desire to want to initiate a “slow ministry.” She described having been called in to do supplemental work for a church out west, and how all the members of the parish were working like fiends. They took on tons of projects, in an effort to stay contemporary and bring in more members, but the end result in the community around her was stress and burnout. At one point during her tenure there Carly realized that this is exactly the kind of operation she did not want to be part of. From there on she began to let go of more and more responsibilities, preferring instead to do less, but do things with greater calm and presence.

“Taking on more and more and more just causes more anxiety. So I had a revelation, a rule of thumb that became my ‘ministry to myself’: I like slower…”

The question of “freedom” in connection to the “right to choose rest” came up, but how this sense of freedom can in fact end up undermining our freedom – a kind of “Capitalism as Freedom” whereby, like in the realm of capitalism (and our unspoken obligation to be a part of this system), “We’re forced to be free.”

This lead to a brief discussion on the question of “limitations” and whether limits are necessary, I.e: deciding to do less, to stop working, to make space for unproductive time. “How do we institute limitations and it not feel like punishment?”, One person asked.

…Or shame. We came back to that (very prescient and ubiquitous) idea of how doing less or doing little is often equated with a lack: of strength, of discipline, of morality. How we are trained from a very young age to go into the world as productive beings as this is also a proof of (good) health.

…So the new ministry, as Curtis and Carly described, is definitely trying to “think outside the box,” wishing to address all these issues and more, looking toward “Doing Nothing” as a communal act.

…As Curtis aptly put it: “…I feel as though I am reclaiming time as a spiritual quest.”

Author: Victoria Stanton

Montreal-based performance artist, writer, and educator Victoria Stanton explores live action, human interaction, video, film, photography, and drawing.

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