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Art of Doing Nothing

Updated on February 25, 2012

We should practice the art of doing nothing more often. This is actually a great skill to learn. When practiced regularly, doing nothing can decrease stress and thereby improve health and quality of life and well being.

Some people are already familiar with the art, but we can all use a reminder. And if you are new to the art form, read on.

It is a Multi-tasking world

If you live in a place where you have the leisure time that you need and are not in a rush to be at some appointment, consider yourself lucky. Many other people live in the fast paced life (such as in large cities) where we learn how to do everything quickly and efficiently. Some boast how they are able to multi-task five things at once.

There are now television screens in banks so you can catch the evening news while waiting in line to deposit your check. At dinner at a restaurant, we are texting another friend while our guest is in the restroom. Or worst yet, while our guest is still eating or talking. People are checking their Twitter while waiting at a stop light.

Even when we go for a walk or when working out at the gym, we have to have our headphones on. "Why not get in an audio book and get fit at the same time?" we say to ourselves.

Lost the Ability to Wait and Do Nothing

People have lost the ability to do nothing and just wait. That is why if we do not move our cars the second the light turns green, we get a honk. That is why when a car need to backup into a parking spot, we have to change to another lane instead of just waiting for the car to finish parking and then go.

We time our travel so that we arrive at our appointment just in time or slightly late so that we do not waste time having to wait. The movie is not starting for another 7 minutes, let figure out what we can do in the meantime. That is why they have arcades at the movie theaters.

When Was The Last Time You Did Nothing?

Many have trouble sitting quietly alone doing nothing. There is always this need to do something, to check our smartphone, to get more into the day, to be more productive. This is a habit that was en-trained onto us since childhood by the modern society that is constantly striving for greater and more economic growth. It is known by some as the "rat race" and here is what is said about the rat race.

Tal Ben-Shahar said ...

"It's not natural; it's not right. We weren't made to be in the rat race. Not even rats were made to be in the rat race."

Quote was from an NPR radio program titled Finding Happiness in a Harvard Classroom.

We were never taught to do nothing. The habit has never been cultivated -- unless you are a monk or have been practicing meditation. Then you know what I am talking about.

However, anyone can cultivate this art of doing nothing on their own. This state that is found when one cultivates this habit is a more natural state of our bodies than the rat-race activities that we are so used to.

Do you know people who come home to an empty house and have to turn on the television right away? That is because we have become so accustomed to noise and activity, that quiet and silence has become uncomfortable.

When was the last time that you did nothing? Just stand like a tree and waited and did nothing. Just sit outside and feel the wind and did nothing else. When were you last at a place where there was no noise?

Sleeping doesn't count. The mind is in a different state then.

Just sit and do nothing
Just sit and do nothing | Source

The Practice of Doing Nothing

There is some benefit to being awake and doing nothing. Practicing the art of doing nothing in silence will bring back this comfortable feeling of being alone with no noise or distraction. We learn to hear our thoughts. We learn to notice our emotions. We learn to see ourselves outside and apart from ourselves. We learn to be comfortable with ourselves. We finally get to know ourselves.

It is good to do nothing every once in awhile. I'm not saying do nothing all the time. Then you really would not get anything done. I'm just saying do nothing every once in a while and do it more often than what most people are doing now.

While standing in line waiting at the grocery store, do nothing but just wait. It teaches us patience. Don't check your Blackberry. Don't check your voicemail. And don't browse the magazines.

The next time you have an appointment, arrive 15 minutes early and wait. And do nothing. Just sit in the car and wait. When you get better at doing nothing, then you can try arriving 30 minutes earlier next time.

This is How to Do Nothing

Doing nothing is pretty difficult, right? If you are new to doing nothing and have not yet mastered the art of doing nothing, here are some tips.

One thing you can do is to count your breaths. Go up to 10 and start back at 1 again. That is still doing something. But at least it is closer to doing nothing than something. Learn the simple meditative exercise of counting breaths.

Learn to listen to your thoughts. Learn to be aware of your urge to do something. Notice the desire to plan and set goals. But do not act on those urges or desires. Just notice that they are merely thoughts and return back to your breath counting. Learn to watch yourself. With practice, you will eventually learn to be content with stillness. If this sounds like mindfulness meditation, it is very close to it.

Try this a little at a time. And increasing the amount of time doing nothing more and more as you become more comfortable with nothing-ness.

The World Would Be a Better Place if We Practice Doing Nothing

Think about all the problems in the daily lives that come about because people are trying to do more of something. People trying to get in line first. Cars honking and causing noise pollution. Bicyclist trying to fight for the right of way. People trying to achieve glory or power. People being rude or violent to others. People being selfish or greedy.

Many of these problems would disappear if we could learn to sit alone, perhaps in a quiet empty room with contentment.

No need nor desire to keep up with the Joneses. No need to compare oneself with others. No need to buy the latest gadgets. No need to have the most friends on Facebook. No need to be the first to tweet the latest gossips.

Instead of eating unhealthy food or shopping on impulse. How about sitting or standing in place, in quiet, in peace, and doing nothing? Try doing nothing while we wait the few minutes when the coffee is brewing. Try watching the kettle boil.

I think I go and do nothing now.

More References:

On page 323 of the book UltraPrevention, the authors says to "Learn and practice the art of doing nothing" because ...

"It is a time to reset your internal rhythms, to integrate the experiences of the day, to be directionless. It is a place where creativity and happiness begin."

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