By Steven Edwards
Meditation can help you focus, get in the groove, perform at a higher level of awareness and productivity, and enjoy life more. Yet there are so many ideas out there about how to do it effectively. Do you just relax and focus on your breath? How about using mantras that help you stay focused? Or perhaps taking a yoga class to blow off steam at the end of a long, hard day? All these can be great ways to help you relax and focus your mind, but have you ever thought of just doing nothing?
I have a very active mind. For me this has been a blessing and a curse at times. I’ve found that if I’m always thinking about the next thing to get done, it’s easy to become a human doing rather than a human being. Even when I go to our family cabin in Wyoming to vacation, I have spent most of my days at the local library where I can access the internet, and work on business projects!
Recently, I read the The Joy Diet by Martha Beck. The first chapter of Beck’s book is entitled “Nothing.” It describes the practice of doing nothing for at least 15 minutes a day. I started the practice. Intentionally doing nothing is one of the most transformational activities I’ve ever done.
Productivity has skyrocketed. The ability to connect to my wife and two boys has improved. Awareness of my surroundings and the people in my life has expanded. My mind feels calmer.
In 600 B.C., Lao Tzu, author of the Tao Te Ching said:
We shape the clay into a pot,
but it is the emptiness inside
that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house,
but it is the inner space
that makes it livable.
We work with being,
but non-being is what we use.
In the hustle and bustle of modern life, with email, cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, advertising, internet, and the myriad demands on our time, it is easy to get lost in the noise.
Even with everything we gain and benefit from in this world of technology and distraction, it’s easy to become desensitized and less able to give open-hearted, full attention to the things that really matter to us in our lives. This is where we lose something truly valuable.
When the somethings of our lives collapse around us, and we’re faced with excess and overwhelm, in letting go and turning to nothing, we find all that we need.
Mother Theresa once said, “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence… .We need silence to be able to touch souls.”
Abba Poeman, an Egyptian monk taught his disciples, “If you are silent, you will have peace wherever you live.”
What I’ve Learned from Doing Nothing
- Clearer mind and memory: this has been really interesting to me. I’ve found I’m actually much more capable of focusing on the things that are in alignment with my goals and values on a consistent daily basis. I’m not trying to focus so much on getting a million things done at once, but have been more focused on doing ONE thing at a time.
- Greater presence in my interaction with others: I’ve found I’m not nearly so focused on my own agenda, thoughts, and desires when in my interaction with other people. I’m noticing more the body language of people I’m speaking to, listening to what they say, talking less, becoming more aware of what people’s interests and goals are, and enjoying the presence of the person I’m with.
- Noticing my surroundings: you know, it’s curious to think about, how as a child and in my younger years, I noticed more closely the things around me – birds, trees, sounds, sights, smells. I drew them, painted them, and listened to what these things had to offer me. In giving in to the distractions and stresses of modern life it is interesting to note the loss of attention I have paid my surroundings. Doing nothing has sharpened my focus and attention to see things.
- Productivity: By surrendering to nothing, I’m actually getting much more of something done. It’s been fascinating to experience my productivity improve by focusing on less, thinking about less, and enjoying the focus I have on what I do.
How to Do Nothing
Doing nothing means exactly what it says: do nothing. There is no need to practice a mantra or move your body. It does not include formal prayer, problem solving, planning your day, or specific visualizations.
When you start this process consistently, you might notice a desire to pull away from doing nothing and go back to preoccupation. Resist the urge. If you feel an idea come to mind, let go of the compulsion to jump up and write it down. Just quietly say to yourself, “I’m busy doing nothing right now” and continue to enjoy the peace.
Reining in the urge to return to busyness when practicing stillness takes a measure of discipline, at least at first. But I think you’ll find that doing so will create a vacuum in your heart, mind and soul, that invites peace, stillness, joy, love, inspiration, and the inner openness to receive as to give.
In that spirit, I have a few suggestions on how to adopt this discipline into your life:
- Put up a “Do Not Disturb” sign: schedule 15 minutes a day to do nothing. I schedule it first thing in the morning after I wake up, drink 500 ml of water, and expose my eyes to sunlight. Hydrating my body after not drinking water all night helps me feel clear-headed. Getting out in the sunlight for a few minutes triggers a hormonal state of wakefulness. You could schedule your nothing time at any time of day. Just best sure to set aside 15 minutes where you won’t be bothered by anybody for anything.
- Find a place: this could be your study, the bedroom, or any place where you won’t be interrupted.
- Set a timer: I use the alarm on my iPhone or iPad. The alarm sound is a soft bell ring that I set to go off at 15 minutes.
- Create the context: the context is the means through which you relax your body and mind and do nothing. I use recordings that include ocean waves, birds and streams, rain and wind. I particularly enjoy listening to recordings of moving water. The air we breathe is filled with positive and negative ions. Negative ions help purify the air, promoting high energy and a positive mood. The proportion of negative ions is highest around moving water such as waterfalls, streams, during and after storms, and the ocean. It’s no wonder we feel so energized when we go to the beach! I have many positive experiences around water, so when I “do nothing” that’s often where I’ll go in my mind as I listen to the ocean through my headphones.
- Relax your body and quiet your mind: Many of us have squirrel minds. To deal with this common tendency, some meditation practices recommend thought observation: just let your mind do it’s thing without passing judgments on your thoughts or trying to control them. Observing your thoughts without judgement allows you to divide your awareness from your thoughts, relax more fully, and be more present. When I come to this state of relaxed awareness, I often find ideas start flooding into my mind: inspiration for an article I’m writing, a marketing idea, or even a quote. I resist the urge to break away from my “nothingness” and just continue to bask in the experience – there will be time later to write down the idea.
- Be present: thoughts of past accomplishments or regrets may run through your mind. Concerns about, or even inspiration regarding the future might course through your thoughts. Whatever the thought, it’s ok, just relax. Just keep doing nothing. When you learn to become present in the here and now in your doing nothing experience, I think you’ll be amazed how quickly that 15 minutes passes, and the benefit you get from it!
I’m confident that you’ll benefit profoundly from this practice. The busier you are, the more preoccupied with getting stuff done, the more valuable and important the discipline of stillness is to you. I challenge you to start. Make it a habit. Enjoy the rewards.