One annual rite of passage at the start of summer is the making of the ‘reading list’. At my daughter’s school, the ‘requirement’ is to read a few thousand words worth of books from a list of their own making. As her first week out of school came to a close on Friday, she decided that we ought to give the library a visit so that she could get started.
The library, after over a year or so? Well, yes! Paper books. Yay! And I would have plenty of time to browse the “New Books” section because her list was a dozen and a half books long. Maybe I would find a new title on poetry or spirituality. We would see…
Thirty minutes of browsing, pulling and putting books back, and nothing was ‘speaking’ to me. And then, a small hardcover in white that said, “NIKSEN – Embracing the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing”. This was it. How did the library know that I had been exploring the Zen practice of “Wu Wei” or “purposelessness” over the past week or so?!
Needless to say, “Niksen” came home with me and I have been enjoying it. At first glance, the phrase “doing nothing” seems like an oxymoron because it combines ‘doing’ with ‘nothing’. If we are ‘doing’, then it cannot be ‘nothing’, right? The paradox can be resolved by adding ‘without premeditation or defined purpose’ to the ‘doing’. Think of an unplanned, spontaneous detour on a road trip. Or a trip into la-la land as you pause your brisk morning walk to look at the geese and new goslings cross the street. Or…
In moments where we suspend the churn of mental, emotional and even spiritual activity, we can find ourselves in a state of ‘doing nothing’. It is a state of just being. Some would equate ‘doing nothing’ to ‘being useless’. Even if that were true, the Tao philosophy posits that it is the balance between the ‘useless’ and the ‘useful’ that gives meaning to life. The pursuit of ‘being useful’ accumulates stress and tension in our lives. Embracing the useless by doing nothing, even for a few moments, can release stress and renew us.
We have all experienced those moments where we ‘lost ourselves’ to the world as we immersed into nothingness. Gazing at a butterfly landing on the azaleas, watching the kids rolling down the hill at the playground, listening to a favorite piece of music or dozing off in a lounge chair during a beach trip. You get the idea. Doing nothing can be so much fun because it feels like play! So, why don’t we do more of Niksen or Wu-wei?
We have our reasons, real and imagined. We have responsibilities, deadlines, project reports, home-stuff, school-stuff, work-stuff, the stuff of life and death. How are we supposed to find time for conscious nothingness in our busy lives? Maybe we can ask a different question. Where are we headed if we don’t make time to ‘do nothing’ and give the ‘useful’ moments of our life a chance to rest?
Let’s make time. If necessary, schedule time to do nothing. It’s going to be uncomfortable for some of us ‘go getters’. If it helps, let’s consider your ‘doing nothing’ time as a new growth opportunity. Who knows? We may find ourselves niksening in the “what’s new” section of our local library and even discover some new (inner) treasures.
P.S. I invite you to join our weekly Twitter chat on Sunday June 6 at 9amET / 630pm India. We will play with the idea of doing nothing in #Spiritchat! Namaste – @AjmaniK