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Zen and the Art of Non-Doing

by Nanci

There is a talent in achieving a day, an hour, or even a moment of non-doing. Our minds are constantly churning thoughts and plans. Even when we’re not thinking actively, thoughts still subliminally steal your peace by popping up: things you have to do, judgments of what you see, expectations of others or yourself. Then we give ourselves a day off from work, or socializing, but we still do things. We’ll clean the house, exercise, watch TV, and catch up on gossip – all acts of doing.

I have met some people in my life, who are skilled in the ways of non-doing as though they were born that way. It’s like the Jerry Seinfeld skit where the woman asks that man, “So what are you thinking?” and he replies “Nothing.” I never believed that, until I met people that I’ve asked that question to and they replied with “nothing.” How can you just be sitting there, not doing anything, and not thinking anything? Even when I’m sitting, and it looks like I’m relaxing, I’m planning out my entire routine for tomorrow, or inventing a new meal, or allowing the past to plague my present, the ‘what ifs’.

Zen taught me the art of non-doing. To spend countless hours and days sitting, and actively non-doing is a talent. A skill that must be fostered and practiced to achieve. It’s a skill that some are born with, and others must work toward, like those who are natural at sports, and others whom are a bit awkward and have to practice daily to achieve even the simplest act such as catching a ball.

A prime example of non-doing is at the end of every yoga class: savasana. This is a state of non-doing. You are lying passively, absorbing the benefits of the practice as you let go of all the tension in your body, and ease the tension from your mind. You keep the mind focused on the breath, or you let it release from its activity and just be.

Start small. Spend five to ten minutes a day in a state of non-doing. Even if you think you’re meditating, try to see it differently. If you think of it as an action, then you’ve already begun your expectations of how it must feel, and how empty your mind must be to achieve a successful meditation. Instead, just sit, or stand, or even walk, but don’t think about it, just enjoy being, in your breath, in your movement, in your body.

Work yourself towards a whole day of non-doing. Of course the basic necessities are important, like eating and drinking, but don’t think too much about it. Don’t fill your space with texts, calls, reading on your tablet, or watching TV. Make a conscious effort to just be with yourself and fully present. When you wake up, lay in bed, and find comfort in the peace of the moment, rather than waking up and thinking about what you have to do for the day. Hang out in your place for the day. Don’t worry about getting things done. Leave the bed unmade, the dishes in the sink, the emails unanswered. Just let it be, and find contentment in the non-doing. Give yourself a full day to recharge. Instead of giving only twenty-percent of yourself to five different tasks, give yourself fully into one.

We all need a day off from time to time. Our definitions of what that day entails varies, but try to find yourself in a state of non-doing at least once in a while. Create a retreat atmosphere and try to experience the benefits of not speaking, of not writing, reading, watching, listening, and withdraw from the senses and spend time inward. Eat simply, digestion is work for your body too. Think of your breath, your movement, your being, and notice where the thoughts go in the silence, to the outside noises, to the past and future, and let them dissolve as you acknowledge them.

The art of non-doing may seem boring to some, but what is boredom? Why are we so afraid to be with ourselves? Why do we create boredom only to exist in the state of disappointment in our present moment? Boredom is a state of mind that we believe exists, but we make the choice to relish in it. Instead, use your time to renew and give yourself a break from all that doing, and find peace in the art of non-doing.

“He who is yoked, having relinquished the fruits of action, attains ultimate peace.”

-Bhagavad Gita, 5:12

Written by Shannon Lough

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