No, I’m not talking about jumping out of a plane (no way)
or wrestling porcupines (ouch)
or running with the bulls in Pamplona (can you say shin splints?)
I’m talking about something else altogether. Something much more daring.
Picture this: I am sitting on a chair. I am doing nothing. Nothing. I am not talking, or reading, or even meditating. I. Am. Doing. Nothing.
What’s the big deal? How hard can that be? As it turns out, much harder than I thought.
I was first challenged to do nothing by my quantum physics teacher Dr. Amit Goswami. He says that in order to fully cultivate creativity and spiritual awareness, we have to alternate being with doing. “Do-be-do-be-do” is the mantra he gives us for this practice.
But I was raised to “do.” Indeed, from as early as I can remember, I have gained a sense of self and satisfaction (self-satisfaction) from my accomplishments. Be it my grades, or creative abilities, or even getting along with others.
Even my meditation practice is a form of doing. Granted, meditation has helped me become more centered and more aware of my inner landscape, but it has also been a subtle form of accomplishment. This “doing nothing” business is another thing altogether.
I avoided it for a long time.
It was probably a month after I first vowed to attempt this practice that I actually did it. Given that I was so resistant, I decided to try it for a specific amount of time.
I sat on my bed and set the timer on my phone for fifteen minutes. After I pressed the timer, I checked to make sure it had actually started before I put my phone aside. After all, I didn’t want to do nothing forever! God forbid.
My timer safely put away so I couldn’t see it, I began.
I sat there. I did nothing. Other than breathe. And sit. And watch the thoughts come and go. Thoughts like:
I should be doing something. This is silly. I don’t need to be sitting here. I meditate, don’t I? I’ve been meditating for over twenty-five years. Doesn’t that count? Why do I have to do this?
Thanks to my meditation practice, there was a part of me that could simply observe what I was experiencing. But there was still a part of me that had to go through the experience. And that part of me was not happy. Not a happy camper.
More like an anxious, disgruntled camper who had been forced to set up her tent on less-than-ideal terrain. Beside a muddy lake with rocky shores and noisy neighbors. In this case, the rocky shores were my own resistance and the noisy neighbors were my own thoughts.
It was a long fifteen minutes.
Finally, it was over. (In case you’re wondering if I checked my timer at any point during the allotted time, I will say this: You betcha.) Having made it through the ordeal, I got up from my bed and went about my day. And even though the entire “doing nothing” experience had been an exercise in observing my own anxiety, I noticed that I felt slightly different.
Everything I did for the next hour or so had a sense of greater spaciousness around it. As if the square footage around my activities had been doubled.
It was uncanny. My “be” experience was not peaceful by any means, and yet I felt more peaceful because I had done it.
My next experience with the practice was a little easier. Mostly because I knew that even though I would feel anxious while doing it (or, should I say, being it), I would feel better when I was finished. And that was true. I felt uneasy while I was sitting there, and I felt a greater sense of spaciousness when I was done.
But it was still hard. And I still resented the rocky shores and noisy neighbors.
My original intention was to do this practice daily. That has not happened. I tell myself it’s because I already pray and meditate daily. I have no time for “nothing.” But that’s not the whole story.
The truth is that I avoid “nothing” because it’s hard. It challenges me in a way I haven’t been challenged before. And, like a good challenge, it holds the potential of great gifts. Ones that I have already tasted.
So I’ll keep trying. Even though it’s hard. Because there’s peace to be found in being. Peace that belongs to me.
What about you? What are your experiences with doing nothing? What are the challenges? And the benefits? Do tell.