On doing nothing
Or rather, on effortless action.
This past week, I wrapped up my Winter quarter graphic design class and left the city for a few days — I drove out to Elizabeth, IL, which you probably have never heard of. There is very little to do there but look out into the vast farmlands and up into the starry skies.
For a few weeks now, I’ve been thinking about what it means to do nothing. When I was younger, doing nothing was seen as an inexcusable lack of action. But as I get older, one of the things I see myself longing for is this nothingness. I think, by nature, I am prone to doing something(s). I enjoy being busy and creating things that don’t exist, whether that be art, photography, newsletter, or whatever. Policies that I live by are: Don’t ask for permission. If you have an idea, do it. And I think up until this point; it’s served me well.
But regardless, I’ve noticed in my life that it is usually when I am occupying moments and spaces of inactivity or nothingness — that ideas come forth. And I am very protective, or at least, I try to be, of these precious moments that, I think, are necessary for the pursuit of meaning and purpose in one’s own life.
And in a world where a constant barrage of imposed activity very much threatens inactivity — how do we afford ourselves the luxury to say okay, I am going to do nothing right now? And I say luxury because — yes, it is a luxury to be able to do nothing or, even more, to be offline.
As the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca (1898–1936) said, I will always be on the side of those who have nothing and who are not even allowed to enjoy the nothing they have in peace.
The paradox of this nothingness is that it leads to better quality outputs and a stronger sense of embodiment and easiness. It is a state that fosters perfect knowledge of the reality of your situation and a realization of the economy of your personal energy.
I gave a talk this past weekend at the Zen Life & Meditation Center here in Chicago. I go into depth about the value of doing nothing and ways to cultivate this in our lives.
How do you practice nothing?
Beginner’s Mind | A Playlist
In this issue’s playlist, I include some songs to help you slow down.