The Art of Doing Nothing
“Do nothing; accomplish everything.”
~ Maharishi

Last week I did something I’ve always wanted to do but never had the courage to do: absolutely nothing.

You heard me – I did NOTHING.

OK, I did a little tweeting and reading now and then, but most of the time I sat on the couch and looked out the window. It was a study of extreme uselessness.

Doing nothing is very uncomfortable for me, because like most North Americans, I’ve been conditioned to be PRODUCTIVE. I enjoy making lists, setting goals, multi-tasking, and being busy. When I’m not busy, I start to get anxious. Fear bubbles up. I feel worried.

Worried about what, you ask? Until last week, I had no idea. But I thought the anxiety was worth examining, because as Joseph Campbell would say, “the cave you fear to enter holds the treasure that you seek.

Luckily a sore throat hit me up at the very same time as a record-setting blizzard, and I realized it was a perfect time to harness my nothingness. I plopped myself on the couch, I closed my eyes, and then… the voice (which I so often falsely identify as my own) began to rear its ugly head:

You really ought to do something. I know you’re not feeling that well this week but your fingers are working fine. You should be writing.

You need to start thinking about how you’re going to make a living in 2011. You should work on your website. You can do that from the couch.

Christmas is coming. Your shopping isn’t finished. Why don’t you grab your laptop and finish it up online? That would be much more productive than just sitting here.

Can’t you see it’s snowing?? At least go shovel the driveway!

How can you just sit here doing nothing when there’s so much to do????

I let out a big *sigh*. Oh little voice. You should know better than to mess with me. I’ve seen Revolver!

And the voice shut up.

In that moment I experienced an epiphany of my own. Being busy all the time perpetuates our identification with the voices in our heads. There is no opportunity to recognize our true identity as the stillness observing the voice, because we don’t even have the chance to experience what that stillness is.

Anxiety surfaces when I do nothing because my identity is being threatened. My identity is entangled with thinking, with doing, with striving, with achieving. But who am I without the busy-ness?? Who would I be without the stream of never-ending thoughts??

Who are you if you’re not the voice in your head?

Perhaps it’s time to sit on the couch and find out. :)

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0 thoughts on “The Art of Doing Nothing

  1. Oli

    “Anxiety surfaces when I do nothing because my identity is being threatened. My identity is entangled with thinking, with doing, with striving, with achieving. But who am I without the busy-ness?? Who would I be without the stream of never-ending thoughts??”

    This is a brilliant paragraph. It’s so true. I feel anxiety when doing nothing and I never really knew why, now it’s obvious, my identity is linked to who I think I am, and my brain classifies doing nothing as weakening my link to this goal achieving identity.

    Reply

  2. sasa vignjevic

    How convenient…you’d get along well with my wife :-)
    Was the voice inside your head or was it your husband?
    Sitting on a couch is not my cup of tea, I prefer walking (oh wait, that is also doing)
    Guess what, my wife is scheduled for a 1-week-doing-nothing session in January; who knows what I’ll be doing in that time?

    Reply

  3. BT

    Stillness only knows stillness.
    Chaos only knows chaos.

    Realizing Our IDENTITY as consciousness, as observer, is the first great epiphany.

    One part of this article in particular gave me an ‘ah-ha’ moment:
    “Being busy all the time perpetuates our identification with the voices in our heads.”

    Identification perpetuates more identification. Thinking patterns are habits.

    What would happen if you completely busted this patterned and replace it with its opposite.
    What would happen if you continually acknowledged and honored your role as the Eternal Observer?

    Reply

  4. Michael Eisbrener

    The first time I ‘heard’ the voice, the one that just asked you what voice is that or mentioned something about my sanity, I caught it telling me to do something I always did when it told me to. A habit I had acquired I was not proud of but not too ashamed to do was a ‘commitment’ of the little voice. In the instant I heard it, it occurred to me I am my commitments and the little voice has its own commitments, almost all of them, in opposition to mine.

    Thank you for asking “Who are you if you’re not the voice in your head?” Until someone asks that question, notices the ‘voice’ is not them, that ‘something’ runs one’s life. Call it a lizard brain, the amygdala or the monkey brain the survival machine called human will run on its own. The true owner doesn’t even notice the ride.

    Reply

  5. Ariella

    Sitting still and doing nothing is one of my favourite and most enriching activities. It used to be my #1 anti-anxiety technique. I learned to sit still while having a panic attack even. These days it’s just a normal part of a daily routine.

    I’m so happy to hear that you’ve tasted its sweetness! Do it more! It reminds you that you are a BEing and not a DOing.

    What freaks me out and makes me ill is a full schedule, like this past week of christmas supposed “holidays”. There was no holiday. I wanted some time to sit and do nothing in between seeing family, like 2 hours a day maybe. Everybody around me was insanely preoccupied to the point of them getting upset if they had a free 15 minutes. They wanted to leave for their next event early so that they wouldn’t have any free time because it made them uncomfortable! The radio had to be on, the TV had to be on, the car radio had to be on between destinations. GAH! I started wearing my headphones as ear plugs.

    By the middle of the week, I woke up from a fitful sleep, and was crying. I had gone too many days without my usual revitalizing doses of nothingness. So I let that hour of crying be the nothingness. I detached from my mind to rest it, and cried pointlessly. I felt so much better after. :)

    Now that I’m back at home, I’ve had several hours of nothingness and I feel recharged! I spent a half hour of that just listening to the rain outside. God how I’ve missed it. I’m going to sleep like a baby tonight!

    Reply

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