When was the last time you did nothing, purposefully? I don’t mean waiting in lines or the doctor’s office, or being stuck in the traffic or standing in the bus station. But doing nothing without checking your phone, without waiting, without reading books or magazines – just nothing.
We are taught from a young age that doing nothing is bad. It’s lazy, it’s not beneficial, it’s something to be ashamed of. And it results in us as expectations for ourselves, as doing too much and not getting rest. It pressures us to do more, to get more results, to do and do and do our best all the time. Because doing nothing is bad, right?
But doing nothing results in doing more.
I got this thought first time about three years ago. I woke up and my first thought was “today I will get something done”. When I opened my eyes, I saw a white mosquito net, heard the distant waves caressing the beach and the morning crickets starting their concert slowly but steadily. I was on a remote island with no wifi, no electricity and almost literally nothing to do. I was shocked to see how much my carefully trained mind wanted to do something. To get something done. Something that will bring results. And I did not even know what it was – just something. Even on a remote island where I came to relax, I felt it was not okay to just be.
I spent there six weeks practicing on doing nothing. At first I was almost desperate. The hardest part was trying to convince myself that it’s ok to not do anything. I am the only one judging myself. I told myself over and over again: I am here to do nothing, I do not need to get anything done, I don’t even have anything to get done – I have nothing and I need to do nothing. My body was restless and I wanted to do beneficial things, something, something.. Just something.
And then it changed. My mind was suddenly bursting with ideas and creativity. I was writing from morning until the darkness fell. Went to bed at seven and woke up at five. Suddenly I felt like I have everything I need. I was freed of the haunting feeling of wanting to be important and successful and productive. The productivity appeared by itself and I started having a blissful feeling of joy in every single moment.
All this slowly disappeared when I left the island. Six months later I was in Bali and joined a restorative yoga class. I lifted my legs up on a bolster, closed my eyes and listened to the relaxing music and thought to myself: why do I need to take a yoga class like this to let myself be? Why do I need an excuse for doing nothing? Why do I need a permission for it?
The philosophy of doing nothing
Recently my boyfriend told me about a thing called wu wei. It is one of the most important concepts of Taoism. It is literally meaning non-action or non-doing – or the paradoxical action of doing nothing. I was instantly fascinated about this and remembered my time on the island. How doing nothing helped me to do so much. Never in my life I had had so much ideas, so many words pouring on to the paper. The result of doing nothing was one of the most creative times in my life so far.
And still, I fight with this. It is in our culture to be productive and get something done and work hard. You do nothing and instantly feel lazy. I have heard people judging someone who works in a grocery store for going to take a break so that the customers saw them going. I was forbidden to enjoy my lunch where customers could see me taking a break when I was working at Subway. We admire people who do many things at the same time and we praise people who work a lot without breaks and vacations. Ambition is the most important and respected trait we can have. We are allowed to rest without judgement only when we burn out – and even then, we feel the pressure to get back to work quickly instead of healing ourselves first.
I have ambition. I have so much ambition to learn to let myself be. To let myself do nothing. Ambition to silence that “do something!” repeating in my head over and over again when I sit down to relax. I want to learn the mindset of the thai woman who was sleeping on her desk when we went to check in to our hostel. “Hahaha sorry I was relaxing”, she said. No worries, we answered – I respect this more than all of the bosses who breathe on their employees neck even when all the work is done.
Challenge yourself to do nothing today. See how long you can take before your mind starts telling you to make the bed, to do the dishes, to prepare food, to exercise, to study, to check e-mails, to work, to distract your nothing with something.