I’m sitting at a small table at Peet’s Coffee, sipping jasmine tea. Just sitting, doing nothing, I open my attention to the sounds, smells, and sights all around me—the whir of the coffee grinder, snippets of conversations wafting by, a burst of laughter from one of the baristas, the musky smell of freshly ground coffee beans, newspapers rustling. Such a rich cacophony of life! The joy of doing nothing—and in this, I revel in the opening to life just as it is right now. Whether standing in line at the post office, sitting in my garden or in my office between clients, I savor these moments of my day; they’ve become increasingly important to my sense of well-being.
Ah, the sheer joy of nowhere to go, nothing to do, no one to be! Just to read these words, many people sigh—yearning for the spaciousness of that state of being while feeling the press/stress of daily commitments, constant activity, and over stimulation. Learning how to integrate these moments of doing nothing into one’s daily life has become one of the strategies that I explore with clients who are feeling stressed and overwhelmed in these times of collective upheaval and financial insecurity.
Learning to do nothing is truly an art, one which few of us in our fast-paced society have mastered. The benefits are many. When we slow down and rest in being, we begin to flow with the current of life. We come home to our bodies; stress melts away. In those precious moments of doing nothing, we have the opportunity to reconnect with our Source—and when we are rooted in this Source the world reveals her magic.
Many are surprised that we deepen our spiritual practice not by doing more, but by doing less and less. Doing nothing we become more receptive to the Truth, more open to life as its is. When we relax back into nothing, we start to realize that nothing is not dead space at all—it’s alive, vital, vast. Energy rushes through the body and animates the senses. Vipassana teacher Jack Engler writes: “My practice now for the most part is doing nothing. I just sit there. I know it sounds dopey. . . Ninety-nine percent of the time, I just open the field of attention. If I had to put it into words, it’s learning the art of doing absolutely nothing. So you’re sitting there, attentive; and enjoying the show. Whatever comes up. A thought. A sound. A sensation. You don’t reach for anything. You just let life bring stuff to you.”
Here are some suggestions for learning the art of doing nothing:
1) Find a safe place in your home and take 10-20 minutes a day to just sit, doing nothing—a place where you will not be disturbed. You might need to experiment with a few places until you find one that feels really comfortable. Turn off all distractions: phones, TV, computers, Blackberries. Allow your body to relax, take some big breaths, and stretch if you need to. Settle into simple being, sitting very still—remembering that right now there is nowhere to go, no one to be, nothing to do.
2) Open your awareness to your breathing, paying attention to the flow of the breath in and out of the nostrils or the rise and fall of the belly. Be aware of sensations in your body—heat, cold, tinglings, vibrations, throbbing, pulsing, aching, lightness, density. Don’t try to manipulate or change your experience—let this all be as it is. Listen to your body—what is your body telling you in this moment?
Keep relaxing, letting go. Gradually open your awareness wider-- to the sounds around you. Allow listening to happen with your whole body, not just your ears. Keep listening. Allow your body’s boundaries to dissolve. Is there a point that you can’t tell what is coming from within or without, that there is no more separation between inner and outer? Everything is happening inside you; you are the body of the world!
3) Experiment with small nothings in your daily life—in the check out line, in the waiting room of the doctor’s office, waiting for the light to turn green. Being alert, relaxed and present, gently open your awareness to whatever is going on around you—conversations, activities, sounds.
Practice driving without talking on your cell phone, without listening to the radio. Enjoy the scenery; focus on your breathing and the sensations of holding the steering wheel.
4) Spend some time in nature, whether in your back yard, a park or the woods—inviting the trees, stones, plants to teach you the art of just being, of doing nothing. If your thoughts start to take you out of the present, just notice them and gently bring your attention back to your breath, your body and the natural world around you.
Drink in the stillness that emanates effortlessly from each tree, each stone, each plant. Such a sense of peace!
If you feel overwhelmed by the daily onslaught of emails, phone calls, news, financial concerns, work & household demands, if you’ve lost a sense of inner peace, take time each day (just 10 to 20 minutes!) to practice the art of doing nothing. In the spaciousness of that nothing, you just might discover the vitality, peace, energy, and inspiration that you’ve been yearning for!
I have a feeling that my boat
Has struck down there in the depths,
Against a great thing,
Happens! Nothing. . . Silence. . .Waves. . .
Nothing happens? Or has everything happened,
And are we standing now, quietly, in the new life?
--- Juan Ramon Jimenez
You will find more suggestions for integrating the sacred into your daily life in my book How Did I Miss All This Before? Waking Up to the Magic of Our Ordinary Lives. If you are curious how a retreat might incorporate this art of doing nothing, check out the last chapter: Waking Up In Paradise Retreat.