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The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done

No, I’m not talking about jumping out of a plane (no way)

photo: Kevin King on flikr

or wrestling porcupines (ouch)

photo: Tim Parkinson on flikr

or running with the bulls in Pamplona (can you say shin splints?)

photo: Viajar24h on flikr

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.

photo: myphotoshare on flikr

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.

photo: Justin Scott Campbell on flikr

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.

photo: P. Gordon on flikr

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.

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11 Responses to The Hardest Thing I’ve Ever Done

  1. Jo Lauer September 27, 2011 at 9:15 am #

    As autumn sneaks in the back door to the summer I didn’t get, and winter looms dark and heavy just beyond the fence, doing nothing for long periods of time feels easier than doing something. My bear-self is preparing for hibernation–I can feel it in my bones.

    • Z Egloff September 28, 2011 at 10:37 am #

      Hi Jo, Beautiful. I love the image of easing into winter, and allowing yourself to sit in that ease. I welcome the bear self as well. Thank you for the wonderful words. XOZ

  2. Susan Robinson September 28, 2011 at 8:51 am #

    Thank you for this post Z. I too have tried doing no-thing and have found that I am only able (so far) to do it in spurts. A restlessness overcomes me, feelings of guilt arise and a voice inside my head that sounds the should alarm, “you should be doing something”, or the question alarm, did I turn off the coffee maker? Then the judgement patrol comes in and say’s “you just wasted 20 minutes of time that could have been productive!” Yet there is also a part of me that longs for nothing and in those moments when everything stops there is spaciousness, and it is different than the space in meditation. So I will give it another try and do my best to give the “committee” in my head a time out!

    • Z Egloff September 28, 2011 at 10:34 am #

      Hi Susan, I can totally relate to everything you wrote. I love knowing that even though it’s challenging, we can still keep trying this “nothing” thing. Thank you for sharing your experience! XOZ

  3. Francesca September 29, 2011 at 9:53 am #

    The Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche who is carrying on the Shambhala lineage, and which I practice, had words of wisdom to this very topic.If you are not able to meditate at all, just sit in the quiet for 5 minutes a day. There is a sense of peace that dictates the rest of your day. Amit is wise too suggesting 15 minutes! I find it refreshing but daunting at times. It is an opprtunity to sit with your thoughts and not engage with the monkey’s playing in and around the barrell. Thank you for your insight and refreshing thought provoking “stuff”. Smooches!

    • Z Egloff September 29, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

      I like that. 5 minutes a day. The 15 minutes came not from Goswami, but from me. I figured that that’s the most I could go without getting too restless! Goswami’s main advice is to alternate times of doing with times of being. It’s definitely a practice that cultivates peace, however we do it! XOXOZ

  4. Alicia September 29, 2011 at 10:53 am #

    Soo… I stumbled upon this site and saw your last blog. I am not the person to do nothing. In fact- doing nothing is something Ive never done. I tried it.

    This is what I came up with when I was complete.

    It’s this feeling. You know the feeling that you can’t describe? The one that you literally feel with all of your body and the minute you try to put into words you feel you like might pass out or you stop breathing. You come to a point where you can’t even think about it anymore or you can’t live. You don’t want to stop living your life but you can’t make this feeling go away. You need more it’s like you have become consumed but you fight it. Your body is taken over. You are lying on the beach in the soft sand, the sun is blazing in massive pink, red, yellow, and orange explosions, the warm water washes over you leaving a salty mist, and your body is at total peace. You are guarded though. You don’t allow yourself to be consumed fully, yet but you feel totally at ease. This whole process that took 10 seconds to read happens in a split second every time your mind drifts over. You’re monopolized in the smell of her body, the touch of her hand, the tone of her voice. So what to do with all these feelings? Do you know that time is not your friend? Time is interesting. We want time to go slow, to take in and embrace all of lives’ moments but not now, not with this. We want life to speed up so we don’t feel out of control. We want to gain back composure but really what does it matter? You don’t want to feel severe. You don’t want to feel like there is a bird flying away with your heart and you can’t catch it. The beautiful mockingbird with the sweet song that is whispered in your ear is telling you not to be afraid and you never see your heart again. It’s at that point that you look and realize that you are totally at ease with that fact. In a world of uncertainties you feel certain. In a world of chaos you are at peace. In a world of questions you have answers. You get up from the warm, soft sand that has made your body sparkle like the thousands of stars in the sky, and you realize that you have a thought for every star, and that you are comfortable with emerging yourself in the warm salty water and letting the hard current take control. You have lost to the current and now you are ready to not worry about that feelings or thoughts. You are ready to float through allowing the feelings to express themselves however they please, and for once, you are totally secure…

    • Z Egloff September 29, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

      It’s amazing what can happen when we take the time to slow down, isn’t it? There’s so much there in simply being!

  5. Jill Shinn October 4, 2011 at 12:28 am #

    Hi Z, I had a sorta kinda similar experience last weekend. I was trying to meditate at the beach. It was warm and breezy and perfect—-except for some creepy sea flies (I don’t know WHAT they were!)

    I kept swatting them away, and then I thought of that National Geographic photo of the yogi in a hot cave in India, covered with flies. He was peacefully practicing Vipassana meditation. He seriously did not mind the flies.
    He had trained himself to find that deep place of peace within.

    So I said to myself, “I do not mind the flies. I am able to find peace without resisting the form life is taking in this moment.” I figured I could go at least 5 minutes, and that I would realize an inner strength and resolve I had never before experienced.

    Sadly, within a minute I started going crazy and wildly fled the scene. Sometimes doing nothing is, well, undoable. “Not” defending myself against the flies was something I could not do, even though these flies were harmless.

    We are trained to spring into action, to react. It’s a survival instinct. But most situations are not survival situations. We need to be able to back off sometimes. I guess that’s part of the lesson in doing nothing.

    • Z Egloff October 4, 2011 at 9:22 am #

      Hi Jill, I agree. Reacting is deeply ingrained in us. Doing nothing seems lazy and, well, inhuman. It’s a funny thing. I’m finding that the practice of doing nothing is slowly unraveling a lot of my conditioning. In a good way. Though it is NOT always easy. Like you said. XOZ


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