By Request: Doing Nothing, Almost Explained

After my post yesterday, several of you asked about the concept of “doing nothing.” (If you missed it, I first mentioned it in my quasi-book review of Martha Beck’s The Joy Diet last week.) What follows is my interpretation of Martha Beck’s suggestion to “Do nothing for 15 minutes every day.”

I once read a quote attributed to Dr. Stephen Covey that went something like, “A ladder leaning against the wrong wall will only get us to the wrong place faster.” We get so caught up in doing every day that we sometimes lose sight of what’s truly important to us. The purpose of the daily exercise of doing nothing is to filter through our thoughts and feelings, to tap into the core of who we are what matters most to us.

The only hard-and-fast rule for doing nothing is that you have to remove yourself from the distractions of your life. It may mean that, for fifteen minutes, you have to leave your house, or lock your bedroom door, or sit in your car in the parking lot at work. Let anyone and everyone know that you are off limits and assure them that they will possibly survive it. Then walk away.

The next step is to find inner stillness. Martha Beck suggests either stilling our bodies, or if that feels too restrictive, then to engage in some sort of repetitive motion (walking, jogging, etc.) that requires no conscious thought. [Note: The motion thing doesn’t always work so well for me, as I’m sure the startled driver I stepped in front of will agree. It does work well on the treadmill or the elliptical, though. And also while washing dishes, oddly enough.]

As we enter this zone of inner stillness, we should begin to observe the thoughts flitting through our minds, almost like watching them on television. Or, if you have a big life, perhaps a movie theater screen. Ms. Beck suggests visualizing these thoughts on a ticker tape or waterfall or some other moving instrument. {My thoughts ride past on bicycles. :)) Let them go by without judgment, assigning a name or short phrase to each as it passes through.

And that’s the point of it all: we’re letting these thoughts pass through. We acknowledge the emotion or feeling they create, but we don’t let them take root or even find a resting place. Not for these fifteen minutes.

The final component of the exercise is to find our “happy place,” a memory of a time when we felt at peace. (If you don’t have one, make one up for yourself.) Recalling these times during our observations is relaxing and reminds us that even during times of stress or turmoil, the good things in the Universe are still with us.

It took me a few days to get into the flow of it and to understand the intent behind each of the actions and how they work as a whole together. At first, my thoughts went along these lines:
I’m tired.
-No, you’re lazy.
Now, I’m being judgmental.
-I’m doing this wrong.
Oh look! That woman should NOT be wearing that shirt with those pants.

After a few days, it became the intended stream of consciousness stuff:
Not having a job scares me.{fear}
-The sun feels warm. {gratitude}
I wonder why I’m so sleepy.{curiosity}
…and so on.

I became more aware of patterns, which is how I figured out I was feeling more anxiety than normal last week. When fear, worry, and nervous appeared multiple times in one day, I kind of took that as a clue. I’m quick that way. :)

I’m sure I’ve muddled this layman’s explanation of doing nothing, and I may not interpret it as Martha Beck intended. You’re probably better off reading the book and figuring out a way that works for you. That said, I’ll be happy to return to the comments and mop up any muddy water. :)

Chime in with whatever you’re thinking, or be on your happy, contemplative way! :)
Hope you’re all having a wonderful week!

12 thoughts on “By Request: Doing Nothing, Almost Explained

  1. Have you ever read, "Wherever you go there you are"? It is another fabulous book about mindfulness meditation. I used to practice it daily, but have gotten away from it. Your post reminds me that I need to get back to it!

  2. I am a huge believer in making time for just me every day, but I don't spend it doing nothing, I spend it exercising. As crazy as it sounds, exercising is my happy time. Ten years ago I had stopped working out (married, kids, schooling- just stress)- just gave it up. However recently I stumbled across a very motivational health and nutrition book titled, "The MindBody FX Lifestyle" by Melonie Dodaro's. This book really helped me regain my confidence, self-esteem and the motivation I needed to try exercising and eating healthier again. I was lucky enough to find a couple of routines that I really love (a great dance aerobic class that I absolutely love, along with a water aerobics and yoga class)- I look so forward to this one hour/day- every mom should have this luxury daily (for their sanity and health).

  3. cammy, what a great way to explain the concept! i laughed at your "oh look! that woman should not be wearing that shirt with those pants." while taking time to do nothing is something i crave and plan, i definitely could improve the quality of that time. i like the visualization of your thoughts, encouraging them to "move along!" and the bicycle image made me smile.
    have a fab day.

  4. I really liked this post & explanation! I actually do go & sit sometimes & do nothing. Not every day & maybe it should be every day! Now, I have to learn to do that thinking part! :-) I do recall saying to myself, that sun feels great on me!

  5. I love to lose myself with the piano. As I'm playing, random thoughts, worries, and stresses wander in and out, but reading and playing the music keeps me from dwelling and fixating on them, allowing answers and solutions to pop in and out as well.

    I've solved some of the world's greatest problems while playing Haydn's Sonatas. :)

  6. I just might be the poster child for doing nothing!! Sad but true. And I am actually kinda ok with that. :)

  7. It does sound like meditation. My dad has practiced TM for 40 years and he keeps trying to get me to do it. He says the three things guaranteed to make your life better are exercise, sex and TM :)

  8. I used to meditate. I would light a candle sit close my eyes put my hands together as if in prayer and say in my mind stillness I would then separate my hands and spread them apart until something popped into my brain. So on and so forth, it was a great way to sit, but still and not think! Not as easy as one may think! :)

    I love the idea of doing nothing though I can see where it would allow you to hear your thoughts and give you some insight and what you need to do or change! :)

    Thanks Cammy! Hugs!

  9. Thanks for explaining all this. I think meditation time is important and sadly do not do it enough. Thanks for the reminder!

  10. Pingback: Hopeful Thinking

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