I spend so much time doing—learning, moving, bettering myself, fixing, cleaning up.
Doing—which in many ways can be good and is needed at times most definitely.
But it’s never in those moments that I feel best. Particularly when it’s activity followed by activity by activity. It sucks the fun out of life if it’s constant.
So I’ve consciously spent these last years cultivating a stiller practice. And I don’t mean meditation. Yes, mediation is wonderful, but it too is a discipline. A “do-ing” of sorts.
No, this practice I’m practicing involves much more being.
Simple moments. Moments that are purposeful. Moments that involve simply doing one thing at a time. Tea in front of the window watching animals scurry around, or watching the flicker of candles that I’ve lit in the early morning as I watch the world wake up. Cooking—chopping, stirring, smelling. Eating. Hikes in the stark and quiet winter woods or listening to the snow melt and water run as we get the first signs of spring.
Stopping to listen to the silence, which, if you haven’t listened lately, can be so rich! Reading with the space around it to drift off—into sleep or into my thoughts, if I’m called. No rush to be somewhere else or do multiple things at the same time. No music or busyness behind the scenes. Nothing.
And don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I have ample time and don’t have a sh*t ton of things to do—because, my God, I do! But when I etch these blocks of space into my days (not in a penciled-in way, which can so easily get hijacked by some “emergency,” but rather, in an etched-in-stone kind of way—a non-negotiable and as-essential-as-breathing-and-eating kind of way). I feel richer, calmer, more nourished, and way more resilient. I am kinder to my loved ones…and to myself. I am more patient in the car, in a line, or with the sharpness of others who are perhaps pushed beyond their capacity by the pace that has determined so much of our world.
It might not be common or might not seem possible given the pace of this harried and hectic modern life, but I can tell you when people ask me what my plans are for a weekend or day or the next hour and I say “nothing,” it makes my soul sing and my cells breathe the most massive sigh of relief!
In traditional Chinese medicine, we call this the yin—the more passive, restful, feminine, and restorative side of the yin-yang balance that makes up life. Yang energy—the active, pushing, productive, more masculine “doing” that dictates so much of our modern world—has no problem being fed in our day-to-day life.
We “do” really well.
We are constantly rushing, moving, achieving, working, exercising, driving, eating, consuming. And I’m not saying these things are bad, but when we are constantly expending energy outward and we don’t take the time to stop, rest, and bring our energy back inside, we burn out.
It’s simply not sustainable.
So many clients come in to see me and report feeling lazy or depressed when they’re not as “productive” as they think they should be. Somehow we’ve been fed the message that in order to be worthy, we need to be produce, to achieve, to do. We’ve lost touch with the magic and gifts of rest, of quiet, of this non-doing.
Not only does non-doing give us a chance to catch our mental and physical breath, there are multiple studies that show how it helps our bodies recover, adrenals replenish, helps our mood, our sleep, our digestion, and, one of the most important in my book, helps us reconnect to our deeper self and our inner world. The place where our wisdom lies and our spirit speaks.
Non-doing allows us to reconnect with that deep inner knowing and voice that is unique to each person. The one that offers up guidance of the gifts we have to offer the world.
When we’re so busy listening to everyone else and navigating our way through traffic, appointments, and errands, it’s too noisy to hear.
It might seem intimidating or unrealistic at first glance, but don’t be tricked—non-doing can actually be easy to incorporate into everyday life. A simple tea or coffee in the morning without any media or multitasking. A 15-minute break to simply sit outside or by a window and observe nature or life bustling by. Lying down for 15 minutes and listening—simply listening—to a soothing piece of music. Restorative practices count—yin or restorative yoga, breathwork or body awareness work. Eating without background noise and away from your desk while you’re at work is helpful, too. A friend started to do this daily at lunch and has noticed not only a big difference in her digestion, but also her mood and ability to handle all that her day throws at her.
So the next time you think you have no time and life is too busy, perhaps try scheduling in some non-doing time and see what happens. My hope is that you’ll be like me and notice life gets a lot richer and a whole lot more manageable when we stop and do nothing for awhile.