Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Art of Doing Nothing

The art of doing nothing is an important skill, and it's one I have yet to totally master. It seems that my mind is constantly running. I've taken up some hobbies and habits that help me learn to focus inward, such as yoga and meditation, or taking a hot bath before bed and actively trying to clear my mind, but it's something I still struggle with. For example, I can easily give myself over to mastering positions in a yoga class, but meditation, a portion of class that comes easily to others, often finds me lying on the floor in savasana (corpse pose) thinking about teaching, what happened today, bills, or what I need to do when I get home. Why is it so easy for me to focus on accomplishing a difficult posture, but so hard for me to give myself five minutes to just be?

I think it is because, our whole lives, we are rewarded for doing. In school, we receive grades based on assignments, and are praised from an early age for finishing tasks. At work, we are working through a checklist of instructions to complete projects. If we go to the gym, we have certain objectives to complete like finish Pilates class or burn 300 calories. Even when we grocery shop, our goal is to buy everything on our list as quickly as possible. In our professional lives, we are not encouraged to just "be," however, life is more than what job we perform during the day, and life shouldn't be an extension of the office.

I never enjoyed the grocery store until Brendan taught me how to shop without a list. Now, I look at the foods, think about what sounds good to me, or what foods are in season. I plan a menu around that. If it takes a little longer, so be it. Frantically checking off a list is not satisfying to me, and if I forget something, the store is right down the street anyways.

In high school and college, I was so busy that I literally planned out most every minute of my day. The only reflecting I really had time for was while on a bus or subway. Now, I try to check in with myself more frequently and make conscious choices. I decide what to eat instead of just reaching for a meal I planned to eat. If I'm tired, I decide to nap. And I actively try not to treat my life as a to-do list. Yes, there are things I want to have done each day, but I also try to leave myself plenty of time to discover what I want to do. This blog post, for example, was unplanned. Later, I might read, and tonight, I just decided I'll work out.

Making conscious choices and being able to go with the flow is a good first step, but what about the art of doing nothing, truly nothing? No one ever sits us down and says, "now, you will just be," and yet, this is something everyone should actively teach themselves. We don't need a T.V. show on in the background, or an i-phone app at our fingertips. It is okay to sit still and not do anything.

Last week, in one of my classes, a student finished his quiz early and started playing a game on his cell phone. I told him phones can't be out while people are still taking a quiz. He seemed utterly baffled about what he should "be doing." I told him to just stay put. Instead of taking the moment to reflect quietly on his morning, he fidgeted, went to the water fountain, etc. I wanted to say, "appreciate these little moments, it's okay to do nothing sometimes." After all, some of my best story ideas come when I'm staring into space.

We cannot truly be happy until we can be content without having a task to accomplish, or something on hand to entertain us. I think we should all take a few minutes each day to embrace stillness and nothingness.

For me, even though I have been actively doing nothing for years, doing nothing is still a challenge. I have to remind myself to stop thinking about a deadline, or something I said I would do, or a chore that I need to complete. I have to give myself permission to just sit still. Otherwise, I'm not allowing myself to be open to life or my own inner self. I'm not allowing my best ideas to come in.

October is such a beautiful month, and it's the perfect time of year to begin some inner reflection. Today, take five minutes to do nothing. Don't think about that email you need to send. Don't fidget. Don't write a to-do list or make a mental list of any kind. Just sit for five minutes. As you get better at this, you can increase the amount of time you spend each day "doing nothing." It's an important skill, not just for a writer, but for anyone who wants sanity in his or her life. Cultivating calmness will lend a sense of inner peace to your life every single day, and who couldn't use that?

Here's to nothing,
<3 S, L&Z


  1. You have inspired me to do nothing. :-)

  2. October is my busiest month with parties, tons of work obligations, traveling, and my birthday. It's also the prettiest month when the seasons noticeably change in South Louisiana.

    I've got to find some time this month to sit and do nothing and enjoy my surroundings.

    Miss you, Stacy.

  3. Love this, Stace! I've been thinking about this a lot in the last day or so. Last night I deactivated my Facebook for this very reason :) I'm making it my mission to spend some quality time with myself without the interruption/distraction of technology.

  4. I'm glad that you enjoyed the post! I have to remind myself to do nothing once a week. It's really hard, we're so pressured to "be productive," but the benefits of doing nothing outweigh (for me) the benefits of ALWAYS being productive.

    PS-I miss you all.


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