A gift you give yourself
There’s a book on my desk I’ve been putting off reading: The Joy of Doing Nothing by Rachel Jonat.
I finally open it, to find it’s not about meditation. Jonat is promoting the benefits of giving your mind and body a break.
“Just as your body needs rest, so does your mind. We need quiet. We need an opportunity to think of nothing at all.”
Most things we do have a purpose and a deadline. Whether it’s sweeping the floor before visitors arrive or getting to the rubbish tip before it closes, there’s usually a goal and a time limit. We know when it’s done. We tick the box and feel good.
We have hourly, daily, weekly and yearly lists, and as we work diligently through them, we feel pleased. We’re doing things.
But doing nothing? This sounds scary. Doing nothing is a guilt-laden activity, especially if there’s someone else in the room, observing the lack of action. Like being caught daydreaming in a classroom or doodling at a committee meeting, being seen doing nothing specific is embarrassing.
If I say ‘I’m meditating’, people tiptoe away and leave me alone. But if I say, ‘I’m doing nothing at all for the next ten minutes,’ that’s asking for trouble.
We believe we have to justify our every moment on earth with the bustle of activity. Doing stuff is valued above all other things. Mothers and ministers are chief offenders, promoting the ancient dictum that idle hands or wandering minds increase the amount of mischief in the world.
But it’s not true.
After reading The Joy of Doing Nothing (subtitled: A Real-Life Guide to Stepping Back, Slowing Down, and Creating a Simpler, Joy-Filled Life) I’m convinced I need to slot some doing nothing into daily life.
After some reflection, I realise I have had moments of doing nothing, but only when I’m alone, when I have the house all to myself, when no one ‘s watching . . .
I type, reach a word block, drink coffee, scribble notes I probably won’t understand tomorrow, go outside to move the solar panels. On the way back to my desk I pause and stare out of the window. I watch the reeds bend in the wind, observe a willy wag hop the length of the red rowboat by the pond. Then, for possibly a minute or two, I just stand, eyes glazed, mind drifting, flitting, sinking, nowhere in particular. Doing nothing.
When I snap out of it and continue walking, it’s like I’ve had a Winston Churchill power nap. I feel refreshed. Relaxed. Soft. Open. Present. Ready for life with all its plots and intricacies.
I sit down. The phrase I need pops into my head and nifty fingers are on their way again, tapping a word path to the finish line.
Jonat advises I take one of two approaches to doing nothing: have mini do-nothing sessions scattered through the day as time allows; or a more formal approach, like fifteen minutes morning and night. I prefer the idea of mini sessions, so I do a mental scan of a normal day to see where I could slot them in.
I can do nothing for several minutes when I pull up in the car park at work. Or after work, before turning on the ignition. I can pause before I eat and when I’m finished. The dishes will wait. At the surgery or hairdressers, just sit while awaiting my name to be called, open to sounds and events around me. At the petrol pump, don’t watch the dollar digits mount. Feel my feet on the ground. Sink into my belly. Let thoughts fly away as I do nothing.
Yes, I can do this. I can do nothing.
Another quote from Jonat to get you started:
Doing nothing can be both a tool to slow down and a tool to make the rest of our time more productive, energizing, and rewarding.
Doing nothing does wonderful things.
Living with mindfulness
Gift yourself some joy.
Deliberately do nothing.
Even if someone is watching.
With love, Marlane
First published on Medium.com/Illumination