Is It Possible To Do Nothing?
SPECIAL NOTE (or warning:-) TO MY READERS: This post uses “do”, “doing”, “nothing” and “not” an inordinate amount of times. My wish is that though inordinate, their use is still appropriate. :-)
I was feeling a little “under the weather” recently and during that time I decided to do nothing. No, I was not bedridden, nor was I experiencing any severe discomfort. I just thought that if I did nothing for a few days, I would give my body a chance to fight off whatever was causing me to be under the weather. Also, I did a post recently in which I posed the question, “Is nothing free?” That post caused me to think a lot about the meaning of the word “nothing.” I’m sure it had a little something to do with the inspiration for this one.
Since I am a blogger, it seemed appropriate to spend my “doing nothing” time reading blogs and writing down some ideas for future postings. While I was doing that, I started thinking about the question I posed in the title, “Is it possible to do nothing?” You see, even though most of the time I thought I was doing nothing, in reality, I was reading, blogging, organizing and doing some minor maintenance around the house. Is that doing nothing? Not really!
Suppose you sit down and not move your body. After you are as still as you can possibly be, are you doing nothing? Probably not. What about your mind? Is it doing nothing? Even if you try not to think about anything, you still need to think about not thinking about anything. Wow!
I have often wondered what people think about when they are meditating. I have read that some people say they think about nothing while meditating. How do they do that? Have you ever tried to think about nothing? Not about the word “nothing,” but about what the word implies. Even when you do that, you aren’t literally thinking nothing.
When we think about what the word nothing implies, and think about nothing, we try to make our minds have no thoughts. But, when we do that we are consciously thinking about clearing our minds and therefore, we are not thinking about nothing. WOW! So it seems that it is impossible to do nothing when we are “doing” with our mind.
If thinking is an act of doing something, then it is impossible to do nothing. So, since we can’t really do nothing, what should we strive for when trying to rest, meditate, relax, vegetate, …? I think we should strive to be in a state of not doing.
Instead of doing nothing, we should just be not doing. Actually, I think that is what happens when we sleep. We enter a state of not doing. I think there is a subtle, but important difference between trying to do nothing and not doing.
To do nothing is impossible, but not doing means we constantly reject anything that causes us to do something. For example, when I was feeling “under the weather” and decided to do nothing, I still chose to do things that I thought would allow my body to rest. I did things that weren’t stressful. I really couldn’t do nothing.
When we decide to do nothing, we don’t really mean what we say. I think we mean that we are going to slow down, break our normal routine and rest. Do nothing is a misnomer. But, not doing is a dynamic statement that focuses on considering the rejection of every physical and mental action we encounter. This is what allows us to sleep. In fact, I think it’s an excellent mind-set for sleep. If you want to go to sleep, don’t try to do nothing, but instead, try not doing. :-)
Whether you are doing nothing or not doing, I would sincerely appreciate a comment.
What a slippery topic! I had to read your post twice just to make sure I got it straight.
I tend to agree with you– “doing nothing” is actually an act of choosing not to do — which in itself is “doing something.”
I know that during meditation, people claim to “think about nothing,” but since the mind is always working (always thinking), that’s obviously not possible. What is actually meant is that you’re not following, pay attention to, or being distracted by, the thoughts that do come up.
When you meditate, you totally relax. That means that after a while, all of the thoughts that you’ve worked hard to suppress over the years tend to come floating up to the surface. Some of them can be quite startling and/or fearful.
The idea behind meditation is to simply observe them as they “float” by. You try not to get drawn into reliving the experience or feeling the fear or hurt. You simply watch the thought rise up, linger awhile, and then fade away to be replaced by another.
But you’re right — that’s not only thinking, it’s also doing.
I think I’ve talked myself into a circle!
Thanks for your thoughtful comment. You have added a new and insightful perspective to my post.
I realise that it has been over a year since the post was up but I just wanted to say I enjoyed reading that.
Whilst at work I thought about the possibility of “doing nothing” and I didn’t think it was possible aswell but your blog has put the concept into perspective for me and I’m loving the idea of “not doing”.I’m going to throw that around in conversation now.
Thanks, Sue, for your “belated” comment. I thought about “doing nothing” about your comment, but then decided against it. :-)
I guess I have always looked at this from the perspective of semantics. The way I see it, as long as I can describe someone’s state of being, then are they really doing nothing?
good insight, you’re on to something very positive. after years of chasing down the best method for personal growth including mindfulness and acceptance ive come to realize that these are tremendous tools in the beginning. personal growth to me goes like this…..you struggle very hard to realize it was all there already…and that you really dont need a method…and you can enter “not doing”. its like using techniques as a ladder, and then realizing you dont need the ladder. i look at these other methods now as just adding “more thinking”. the beautiful thing about not doing is that it makes more sense over time, while initially I started off trying to do nothing (set in my old ways of thinking constantly). theres a guy named Osho that speaks about “non effort” and “not doing” (which ive come to agree with heavily). he said that for techniques there are a million and one different options to choose from, but for non-doing there is only one- and that is dropping everything, including your thoughts about improving. its either one way or the other. hopefully this makes sense, i never comment on websites but it was fun. it is possible to make not doing a technique if someone doesnt understand the reality of it and is just “trying it out”….the reality is that we are complete right now and we dont need a technique to enjoy or cope with the ride, that naturally our body takes care of itself for us….like you said- do we really need to think in order to sleep? the cool thing is that it grows by itself…and you learn to do less and less, and let your body take care of more and more without your effort, thinking, or doing. call it lazy…..or call it extremely f*****g intelligent. nice to meet ya!
Great discussion, I was just contemplating doing nothing when I realised it probably wasn’t possible , googled it and came across your blog and some excellent replies. I think meditation is as close as it gets, does the mantra have the effect of concentrating the mind to just focusing on doing one thing, maybe That’s the answer its possible to do just one thing but not possible to do nothing?
I appreciate all of your comments. This post seems to have a life of its own. You, as a collective group, have given me much good food for thought AND I’m simply unable to “do nothing” and ignore it. :-)
it is truly impossible to nothing because even if your not moving your still breathing and being as still as you can the only thing nothing happens in is an empty vacuum chamber. prove me wrong my twitter
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