The Beauty of Doing Nothing

When I look back over my life, often the moments I am most proud of are those points when I’ve chosen not to let my fear dictate my which way I go – I don’t know who said it, but it works here – these were moments when I felt the fear but did it anyway. Here are a few of them, in no particular order, except the first:

– Proposing to my wife

– Dropping off into my first black diamond ski run

– Leaving Art School

– Making contact with my father for the first time.

– Asking for help when I’ve been down.

These all involved taking specific actions – usually speaking to people. Recently though, I refreshed this commitment. The problem was that I realised there were no actions in front of me that I was afraid of. Let me clarify for a moment – what I mean is that there was nothing before me that I desired intensely, where my heart yearned to go, and from which I was holding myself back – no particular people to talk to, no actions to take. At the same time, there was a myriad of challenges that demanded my attention, and my action.

A couple of days passed, and I started to realise what the fear challenge meant at this time. It was not about action, or doing. It was about non-action. It was about facing my fear of doing nothing, even thinking nothing. This is something I’ve found challenging for a very long time. So challenging in fact, that I came to almost dread holidays. It was about allowing myself the space and the time to let things unfold, rather than forcing the situation, or trying to simply think myself out of it. And as any creative person know, this quite time, the ‘it’ I was trying to run away from is a crucial and inescapable part of the creative process.

I wanted to share this because I know a lot of people share this.

We get used to believing that the mind has to always be engaged, particularly if there are demands to be faced. But often, engaged simply amount to being busy, rather than being involved in a creative, constructive, and positive manner. Too often, this chaotic mind ends up running us, rather than the other way around.

In the Zen tradition, there is a cycle of images about the ox herd. The ox is, roughly speaking, analogous to the mind, which needs to be tamed and ultimately brought to a place of peace so we can live in harmony.

For those relentless doers, not doing, not thinking, can require facing our deepest fears. The ‘what if’s are endless. The unruly ox-like  mind, can be tearing up the shop, but from its perspective  doing is all that matters. The problem is that the unruly mind is as likely going to think in ways and take actions that are not in our interests – they are not always intelligent.

Allowing one’s self to simply be, requires a certain amount of trust – even faith if you like. Trust that everything will be ok. Trust that everything is ok in this moment, not because of any set of external conditions. Ultimately, it comes down to a non-judgemental attitude toward what is, whatever it is, that goes beyond likes and dislikes. Things simply are the way they are. And this goes to the heart of something I realised a while back – if you want to change anything, the first thing you must do is accept it – face it openly in the clear light of day. One of the best ways to cultivate this is by meditating. Sitting quietly, doing nothing.

So, as my little challenge to you, if you don’t do this already, just sit quietly by yourself for ten minutes today – even if you have very important things happening (in fact especially if this is the case!). Allow your mind to be like a pond of clear still water. Thoughts will arise, but rather than cling on to them, just let them pass like clouds coming and going. Afterwards, observe what is different. How do you feel? How do you feel about what lies in front of you? If you like, write to me and share your experience.


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