Worrying is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.
When something is not working, when we feel lost, or when we don’t know what to be doing in the present moment, our mind nudges us into action. It could be seeking a solution, talking to someone about our stressors, or just distracting ourselves with a TV show or food. Through some mechanism over time, our mind has developed this strong belief that doing is always the solution. However, as we have experienced over and over again, action does not fix everything. Watching TV doesn’t always cure boredom, and venting doesn’t heal anger. If we’re lucky, we may achieve temporary relief, but the root of the problem remains – we always feel the need to control things, and as a result, we feel the need to always do something.
The Art of Non-Doing
Yesterday, when feeling a bit restless and in a rut, I wrote a journal entry/note on my phone:
I gave in today and tried to logically get myself out of the rut that I’m feeling regarding my monotonous day-to-day routine. I googled for ideas, I went on Reddit, I listened to talks, I tried reading, and quite honestly, none of it worked. Had I not stressed over this, I could have least enjoyed the past two hours. It wouldn’t change anything, but it may have been relaxing, and that might have helped.
I experienced a challenging emotion (restlessness), but no amount of doing was able to fix this. As a matter of fact, it may have made things worse because I felt tired and like I had lost valuable time on my day off, and I had nothing to show for it. When we feel unpleasant emotions, we feel the need to get rid of them. What we fail to recognize and admit to ourselves is that it is okay, and it is human, to experience negative emotions. Not every negative moment or feeling has to be a crisis.
We do not know how to sit with our feelings. The art of non-doing is recognizing that it is okay to not try to fix everything. It is okay to feel bad and let ourselves feel that way. Oddly enough, this acknowledgment in and of itself is empowering and a mood lifter. Does this mean give up or stop trying? Absolutely not! It means learning to distinguish between what you can control and what you cannot control and being okay with what you cannot control.
Non-doing simply means letting go, letting things be the way that they are, and letting them unfold the way they are intended.
“When we spend some time each day in non-doing, resting in awareness, observing the flow of the breath and the activity of our mind and body without getting caught up in that activity, we are cultivating calmness and mindfulness hand in hand”
Meditation, at its core, is an exercise of non-doing. However, it is not the only way to practice non-doing. I have found that non-doing is about absorbing what is happening in the present moment as it shifts into the next moment. It is also about making a conscious decision not to be pulled in several directions by our feelings, desires, or external pressure. Non-doing can also manifest through effortless action (i.e., things that induce a state of flow). This could be listening to music, going for a walk, or swimming. The key here is intentionality. Is movement enabling your ability to be aware and present, or is it just another thing you are doing?
More than anything, non-doing is something that results through the decisions we make in our day-to-day. When you’re bored, do you automatically grab your smartphone and scroll through social media, or do you sit with it and be okay being bored? When someone messages you from work in the evening, do you immediately respond or put it aside and respond during regular working hours?
“Now and then it’s good to pause in our pursuit of happiness and just be happy”
~ Guillaume Apollinaire
If there’s a takeaway I can give from this post, it is this – the next time you’re in a rut, or you feel stuck, rather than jumping into action, take a moment to pause. Take just two minutes. Take a handful of deep breathes, analyze what is happening around you, recite a mantra to ground you, and/or ask yourself this question – do I need to be doing something right now and will it fix how I am feeling?