The Art of Doing Nothing

“Doing nothing often leads to the very best of something.” —Winnie the Pooh

One of my secret goals for this year is to be better at doing nothing. I’m one of those people who is always busy. I’ve got work and volunteering and exercise and other activities. Sometimes it feels endless! Don’t get me wrong, I love all these commitments and get a lot out of them. But it doesn’t leave much time for doing nothing.

Unscheduled time to rest the body and mind

I read an article about Nelson Mandela and how after he got out of prison and was elected President of South Africa his schedule was very hectic and every moment packed. When he had the opportunity (and it was rare), he would be at home and sit quietly on his couch. During this time, he didn’t read or watch TV or talk with other people. It was just a quiet time for him to clear his mind and not have any thoughts or obligations to fulfill.

Artists have written about how unscheduled time lets them wander and explore ideas. Not having a purpose with this time or a mission to accomplish lets unexpected things happen and creativity blossom.

But I think it also lets the mind and body rest. Sure, you’re not sleeping, but you’re also not straining to achieve anything. Sometimes not doing anything is just what we need to do.

Winnie the Pooh and his adventures with the friends and Christopher Robin are a great example. When we’re children we are released onto the world without a mission. Our parents kick us outside and tell us to entertain ourselves. We explore the world and ourselves during this open time. We make up imaginary friends, games, and places. We don’t feel constrained, and can just enjoy the freedom of doing something by doing nothing in particular.

“People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day.” —Winnie the Pooh

How can one do more of "nothing"?

Honestly, I’m not sure how I am going to do more of doing nothing. My first approach has been to schedule my time less, to just leave open free spaces where I don’t have tasks or obligations. The risk is that I will fill these times with assignments that I didn’t complete. But I think it is a start.

The next step, which sounds harder to me, is not to fill my free time. Could I just sit outside and observe nature awhile? Maybe take a stroll in the neighborhood? I would be tempted to fill it with book reading or TV watching, but I need to resist. I already do these things!

But how do I channel Winnie the Pooh and achieve the impossibility of doing nothing? It’s in my bones to feel the pressure of accomplishment and crossing tasks off the to-do list. I keep it in my phone and it follows me around all day!

Perhaps I need to put technology aside for a short period of time. Leave my books on the shelf. Just get seated in a comfortable place and sit awhile. It doesn’t have to be a long time, but doing nothing will be my therapy. It doesn’t demand an outcome or a tangible response.

Doing nothing may be the ultimate meditation. It calls just for being in the present. It requires no analysis of the past nor an expectation for the future. It has no judgment (good or bad). It can be whatever I need in that moment.

Winnie the Pooh’s penchant for doing nothing may seem silly, but I think it’s one of his best insights about being. Sometimes inspiration comes from nothing at all.

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