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The Art of Not Doing

Posted on 2019-03-27 By Joanna


“Not doing” can be easily associated with giving ourselves to various distractions, or simply with not being productive or creative. There is, however, much more to this state than simply being lazy or procrastinating.

When you turn off all distractions and simply stay still, what are you left with? Silence for sure, but also with a different psychological dynamics to when you are engaged in something. In that state, it is much easier to notice various sensations, feelings, and thoughts which might not be accessible to you when you are engaged in something. By not doing, you provide your brain with space to process your experiences, memories, feelings and thoughts.

Constant busyness, rushing and various distractions will eventually knock you out of the present moment and inevitably reduce the quality of connection you have with yourself. This is because constantly chasing the next thing you can achieve or in the case of distractions, numbing your brain and body of the present-moment sensations will not allow you to develop self-awareness.

Unfortunately, Western culture is based on doing as much as we can, whereas not doing is often associated with laziness. Surely, breaks are permitted, but due to habitual conditioning to stay occupied, even our breaks are often laced with doing more stuff under the pretence of relaxing: watching tv/films, playing video games, talking to people. “Not doing” is neither of that.

Not being occupied with or engaged in anything and simply allowing your mind to wander, whilst staying in a present moment allowing this experience to unfold, is what “not doing” is based on. It's a similar state to meditation, however, meditation is often based on some agenda of focusing on particular elements of your experience. Not doing, on the other hand, is allowing this experience to simply be without focusing on anything in particular.

How to practice “not doing”

Everyone is different and so everyone will have different preferences in regard to how they would like to be engaged in “not doing”. My favourite “not doing” activity is to simply play ambient music and relax in my chair.

When you first start engaging in “not doing”, or even if you are already experienced in it but it doesn't always go the way it should, you might notice yourself fidgeting, searching for little things to do, consciously planning something, ruminating, or maybe even getting frustrated with not having anything to do. It's a good sign if it happens because this experience will show you how much you conditioned yourself to stay active and chase various goals, whilst forgetting about the opposite state which could allow you to stay balanced.

When you are not doing, you are somewhat forced to be with yourself and notice various elements of your experience which wouldn't be available to your conscious awareness if you remained active. I've written a little bit on this process in the article on solitude.

“Not doing” could be also compared to Yin, or simply feminine energy which manifests itself through receptivity, passivity, and ability of going with the flow. This is in contrast to the masculine Yang – making things happen, control and activity.

When we are “not doing”, we allow ourselves to tune in to the present moment experience. It's not about creating or controlling it (although some Yang energy will be still manifested since we control for the context in which we can experience Yin), but rather about being receptive and open to anything that crosses our path in that particular moment. Surrendering to this experience allows your ego to step back from the control chair which in turn, creates space for other parts of your mind to manifest themselves.

The benefits of “not doing” will be the most prominent if you time it right – too much of “not doing” might put you in a state of stagnation, and too much “doing” might burn you out and even confuse you. Apart from allowing your mind to process various aspects of your past and present experiences, “not doing” also creates space for creativity to flourish as it can unlock hidden parts of your mind that might be covered by the ego trying to constantly remain in control of its experience.

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