Wednesday, May 8, 2013

The Lost Art of Doing Nothing

     I have a friend who lives her life in fast forward. This woman does not believe in wasted motion. If she has something to tell you, she gets to the point and then leaves you on the way to her next task.
    She walks fast.
    She talks fast.
    I would guess that she sleeps fewer hours per night than I do, that she dresses more quickly, and that she has more energy. I also think she probably gets things done more efficiently than I do.
     Is she happy? She certainly appears to be, but I would suggest that she may be missing out on a very important part of life. It is the serenity that comes with doing absolutely nothing.
     I know some of you are saying, "Yep. I enjoy relaxing with a good book, myself."
     If you are reading a book, you are doing something.
     "Oh. Well, I meditate."
     If you are saying a mantra during meditation, you are doing something.
     If you are whittling on a piece of wood, you are doing something.
     If you are listening to music, you are doing something.
     I'm talking about doing absolutely nothing. I have become something of an expert at the practice. I will say, up front, that the best version of doing nothing is also thinking about nothing, but it's hard to control unbidden thoughts.
     You can, however, control your actions. Try it sometime. Sit down in a comfortable chair or lie down on the couch or in a hammock and just ... do ... nothing.
     How long can you keep at it before becoming restless? A minute? An hour? A day? I've never had the opportunity to test my theory, but I'm of the belief that I could spend several days doing absolutely nothing before I got bored. You have to factor in meals, bathroom visits, and sleep, but other than that your main activity would be no activity.
     Obviously, you can't do this with anyone else in the house, unless they, too, are committed to doing nothing.  Conversation, it seems to me, would be cheating.
     I first discovered my ability to do absolutely nothing as I sat on the front porch of my grandparents' house many years ago. My grandfather was there, staring off into the distance, and I decided to mimic him.  I found an inner calmness.
     I know many people report this same zen-like sensation from doing daily meditations. But meditation doesn't work for me nearly as well as just sitting and staring off into space. I'm not chanting in an effort to reach some peaceful place. I'm just gazing at whatever is in front of me.
    It becomes a form of self-hypnosis, a daydream, if you will, and I've found myself waking up from the nothingness on occasion. It's probably my body's signal that nothing time is over, and I need to get started on something. I'm always a bit sad when that happens.
     I've often wondered what would happen if I participated in an experiment where I could turn off the lights and sleep whenever I wanted, but would not otherwise know whether it was day or night. Would my body naturally fall into the same sleep pattern that having a family and a job and responsibilities forces upon me?
    I think I would probably sleep more often than I do now, but I also think I would get a lot more accomplished, both real work and a fair amount of practicing the art of doing nothing at all.