Doing nothing goes against the grain for most of us. We are conditioned by our parents, our teachers and the society we live and work in to keep busy. So the suggestion that doing nothing may sometimes be better sounds like the work of an anarchist. Yet actually it may be the very thing we all need.
Doing nothing is lazy, right?
Doing nothing does have certain connotations. It may conjure up images of being bone idle, irresponsible and letting everyone else do the work. That is why I prefer the term “not doing”. Not doing implies stillness and mental clarity. By cultivating the wonderful art of not doing, we also cultivate our consciousness. In this context, we are working on our own development, trying to become better human beings.
Suddenly, doing nothing is doing something, after all. That may not satisfy the strong personalities I have come across from time to time. They assert that meditation and mindfulness are pure self-indulgence. Actually, such practices require an enormous amount of self-discipline and, if done correctly, naturally lead to selflessness.
But I feel guilty if I’m not busy
That’s understandable. To a great extent, we are conditioned that way. There has to be work otherwise the infrastructure of society would collapse. When we are young, we have so much energy that we need work and education to channel it. As adults, we may need to work to support ourselves and our families, if we have them. The challenges of work help us to grow as individuals, too.
Not doing, or doing nothing, doesn’t mean giving up work. It means changing our attitude towards it, and to life in general. It has to do with how we are inside rather than how we appear to the world at large.
So what do I need to change?
The mind is a bit like a machine. It just keeps going. It’s a noisy contraption that shakes and rattles and often threatens to break down. Now and again, it produces something useful but most of the time it steals our natural presence to life. Instead of enjoying life with full and blissful awareness, we focus on the demands this heat-producing conglomeration makes on us. And we don’t need to put up with it.
Doing nothing is letting go
As long as we are slaves to the mind, inner peace will elude us. Yet the mind is largely our own creation. Oddly, you cannot find your mind but you can find your inherent awareness. Our natural awareness or consciousness is who we are. Whenever we succumb to the demands of the ego-created mind, our true nature – who-we-are – is impossible to find. So we have to learn to let go.
How to come back to yourself
Letting go means that when we feel driven to do something – to check our messages, for example – we take a conscious breath instead. Feel the sensation of the flow of the breath. Feel the impulse that creates the desire to go to our phone, tablet or computer. Feel the sensations of not doing, of not responding to the impulse. Breathe into them. Sometimes the impulse will dissolve by itself. At other times, we may still feel the urge to act. That’s okay.
The key is not to fight but to notice. In noticing, we start to become the observer. Little by little, we will experience greater clarity. In that clarity, we simply are.
Doing nothing – then acting
The mind machine cannot exist by itself; it needs space in which to operate. If we notice the space, we are not caught up in what we see. Our thinking becomes clearer and, in stillness, we are safe to speak or act, or indeed to do nothing. From this, we develop the skill of right action and right speech. Then life becomes easier and more fulfilling.
In this way, we train ourselves to become happier and more effective human beings. We need to work at it but we can do it. The effects can be tremendous. Is that lazy? I don’t think so.
The book The Art of Not Doing is available here.
You can listen to a podcast on this subject with me as a guest of Paul Kerzner of Arizona, USA.
The evening workshop Mind: The Way to Bliss is on Monday 3rd April 2017. More information
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