The Art of Doing Nothing…that’s an art?

If I am to be honest this is yet another line from Eat, Pray, Love (yes, I may need to hide it so I stop watching.)  It was in a scene where Julia Roberts is in Italy and the people she meets tell her that this is something that Italians know well and Americans have no idea about.  Um ya, I would be that American.  If there were a class that taught people how to do nothing…I would sign up…and that’s no joke.  In fact I think there are classes like that, they are called meditation.  Hmmmm must sign up for more of those goes on the To Do list with, write the next blog post, talk to people about website development, go workout and the list goes on and on.  But honestly doing nothing is hard for me.  I did’t get the gene that allows one to be lazy and be ok with it.  That’s called emotional exhaustion for me and these days I don’t get that very often. When making the career shift that is now my current life, my grandmother told me “Stephie (she and my Dad are the only ones who get a way with that so don’t get any ideas)  I am not worried about you.  You are a go getter, you don’t wait for anything.”  This was a touching moment as I was riddled with anxiety about taking a risk.. But I am teaching people how to be more comfortable in their own skin in the present moment, correct?  So I come back to the practice of balancing being and becoming.  There is a line in a book that I have used for years in group treatment that is very fitting at this time.  It is from the book “The Precious Present” by Spenser Johnson, MD.  It goes like this “It is wise to learn from my past but not to BE in my past for that is how I lose myself.  It is also wise for me to plan for my future but not to BE in my future for that is how I lose myself.  And when I lose myself I lose what is most precious.”  Hmmm so how does one do this?

Seven years ago I went on a retreat/workshop training in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction at Omega Institute with Jon Kabat Zinn and Saki Santorelli.  At that time in my life the concept of sitting still was totally foreign.  I liked the idea of being still but I couldn’t for the life of me do it.  The week turned out to be very enlightening of course.  Sitting started becoming a little easier, it was the walking meditation that drove me crazy ironically.  That was because walking meditation is the other extreme of how I generally walk, which would mean it’s at a snail’s pace.   I couldn’t seem to tolerate walking like a zombie in the courtyard so I went off on my own mindfulness walk through the woods to stare at the squirrels and find some peace as walking like a snail was driving me nuts:)  I have extremely fond memories of that week spent with them.  Jon Kabat Zinn comes across as a very kind and grounded human being in person, in his books and on his cds.  Very gentle soul which is what I needed and continue to need to combat the meanie that pops up in my head at times.  In Kabat Zinn’s book he speaks about “the non-doing paradox” that is so tough for Americans.  He writes “the joy of non doing is that nothing needs to happen in order for the moment to be complete.”  Hmmmm well then I have done non doing many times over!  There are moments, like this morning sitting on my fire escape that felt like they needed nothing else to make them more perfect.  The air is finally crisp and fresh.  The wind blowing, the birds chirping and peace within.

The lesson in non doing is that it isn’t about being lazy and being ok with it, it’s about what mindfulness guru’s talk about as pure awareness. Pure awareness is being connected to the breath, to the moment, to your body and to your surroundings.  It’s not about zoning out as one may do when being lazy but it’s about being aware of the moment.  Kabat Zinn speaks of mindfulness as the awareness that arises by paying attention on purpose in the present moment without judgment.  He further suggests that this doesn’t mean that we have to suspend judgment but that we don’t judge ourselves for being judgmental.  I like that, so it’s not the practice of non doing in a way that leads to sloth but it’s the non doing within the doing.  That’s a definition I can work with!  This means that the key is to do just one thing fully.If you are sitting relaxing be with the relaxation, not making lists of what needs to be done.  As he said in the training, when you are washing the dishes you are really washing the dish because you can only wash one at a time.  The interesting thing about lists is they will always be there.  You can accomplish things on them but there will always be other things you can put on them.  So just for this moment, take time to just be wherever you are.  Take time to spend with those you love, to smile at a stranger, to have a genuine conversation with the person who makes your tea or coffee at the cafe because those are the things that matter.  A client told me recently that watching their child play had become fun and an opportunity for them to see gain things that they would otherwise miss if not present. These moments, that seem insignificant, are fleeting but special.  We often only really appreciate them when we have lost those we love.  So just for today, take a moment to be, the becoming will happen as the moments unfold.

And I am off to… nothing!

Leave a Comment