On not doing anything
Do you sometimes feel like not doing anything? I do. Many times. The truth though is that I always have a hard time not doing things.
The other day I was making some tea, and it hit me. I couldn’t stop moving around. While the water was heating up, I was cleaning the kitchen. While the tea was brewing, I was checking my email.
I realized that every time there was an empty moment, I would try to fill it with something to do.
What would the gods of the Gongfu ceremony think of me if they learned of my tea transgressions? I felt ashamed. So the next day I woke up, put on my tea and watched how the water boiled. Didn’t move, didn’t think, I waited.
I’m sure I’m not the only one. I enjoy the silence. I relish those down moments where I can sit down and not do anything. It’s hard though. We all have this tendency to occupy all available time, no matter how much we’ve got.
The more free time you have, the more you work. Oh, the paradox.
“When you do something, you should do it with your whole body and mind; you should be concentrated on what you do. You should do it completely, like a good bonfire. You should not be a smoky fire. You should burn yourself completely. If you do not burn yourself completely, a trace of yourself will be left in what you do.”
― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice
The other day I was reminded of the previous quote. It’s one that resonates powerfully with me. I recognize I get distracted when doing something and we all need to observe this discipline.
One thing at a time, devoting our full concentration to the task at hand. I’ve checked my email twice since I started writing this piece. I’m not there yet it seems, but as I always say, failing isn’t the problem. The issue is not being aware that we’re doing it.
Sit down, put your phone away and look out of the window. Enjoy the weather, watch the leaves fall, feel the wind and rain, smell the thunder. How long can you do this without feeling guilty? How long can you remain there without having an itch to “do” something?
When we do not do anything, when we contemplate the world, we are doing something. We’re disconnecting, sensing, feeling. Cherish those moments and guard them as much as you can. Try to multiply the instances and avoid losing what you’ve achieved so far.
“I’ve begun to realize that you can listen to silence and learn from it. It has a quality and a dimension all its own.”
― Chaim Potok, The Chosen