It would come as no surprise to describe our culture as one that is obsessed with doing, consuming and achieving. These active roles are very important, as they are the ways in which we navigate our physical world. The ego enjoys these outward expressions because they help to sustain its identity. With so much focus on the doing, we sometimes forget to simply be. It is in our being-ness where the true joy of life resides. But with so much energy spent on comparing ourselves with others, how can we slow down to benefit from the art of doing nothing?
We have a complex relationship with the art of nothingness because it defies what our culture says is valuable. Our initial response to anything that does not add value to our resume or bolster our reputation is “why do it?” I believe that the ego has a real disdain for simple acts of being – meditation, self-reflection or relaxing walks because the mind is asked to quiet down. The ego is uncomfortable with the quiet, trying to convince you that the incessant commentary running through your head is a necessity. Even exercises like yoga, tai chi and qigong are refuted by the ego for their apparent lack of benefits.
The Italians have a fitting expression: il dolce far niente – the sweetness of doing nothing. Life is meant to be sweet but most of us are much too focused on the doing to enjoy it. We forget that the Universe and all that it contains rely on balance to sustain it. For every action, there is a reaction. To have hot, there must be the experience of cold. Yang must be balanced with yin. We forget that the micro (our bodies) is like the macro (the world). We need balance to be in harmony. With all of the focus on the active, it is no wonder that people find themselves feeling depleted, stressed out and overtaxed. The push for greater achievement creates an imbalance in our life. With such focus on doing, we may miss the opportunity and the necessity of rest. The value of nothingness lies in its ability to rejuvenate and replenish. It fuels the flow of Life by creating a space for the ebb.
When we take the time to reflect or contemplate – by way of slowing down and being mindful, we are better able to access a higher source of energy, insight and resolution. The very nature of nothing is like an empty cup, waiting to be filled. There will be times when it is beneficial, if not necessary to empty your cup consciously in order to make room for something else. Longer stretches of nothingness are like periods of incubation. The alchemical process of Life takes place in the yin aspect of your being in preparation for the outward, active expression of yang. In times of stillness, we can allow the divine to reorder our lives in extraordinary ways. God does not need your permission to change your life but in the active side of nothingness, we work in unison with the divine.
The sweetness of doing nothing can be found in calming the mind to allow our subconscious to evaluate thoughts, feeling and perceptions missed by our conscious state. One of my favorite things to do to bring about stillness is a walking meditation. During my walk, I keep to being a silent observer, refraining from labeling or judging anything I see. I no longer identify the trees, houses or people I see. I simply observe as though I am witnessing them for the first time. Without the mental designation, my gentle awareness picks up something within me. It is my soul percolating to the surface and a sense of calm fills my being. I am deeply aware of the sense of aliveness within my body. It is the feeling of being in the world but not of it. These meditative walks, from an external appearance seem to be ordinary. But my internal experience is filled with the extraordinary.
I invite you to choose to experience the art of nothingness next time you can. Enter into your stillness with as much joy and anticipation as you do any other action. Let yourself steep a little further into it’s sweetness and come out of the quiet with a view on life a little sweeter.
Kevin Joubert is the founder of Thoughts Unearthed.
Photo credit: Photography Blogger