When was the last time you did absolutely nothing? I don’t mean zoning out in front of the TV, or even reading a book by the pool or on the beach, but absolutely nothing. When was the last time you sat in stillness and simply experienced being, without the distraction of tasks, television or a tablet?
When was the last time you really observed what was going on around you? Tuned into the distant sounds around you? Felt the warmth of the sun or the cool breeze on your skin? Noticed the breath in your nostrils? Or paid attention to the minutiae of an ant going about its business?
If you attend regular yoga classes you might luxuriate in a centering meditation or pranayama exercise, or relax in savasana for 5 or 10 minutes at the beginning or end of a class. But for the rest of the week we are incredibly adept at filling every single waking moment of every single day with doing.
From the moment we wake up and pick up the phone by the bedside or turn on the radio, to our journey to work on the train checking emails, to lunch at our desk watching YouTube videos, to a quick run/gym session before dinner, to one last check-in with Facebook before bed, not a moment passes without finding something to do, watch or read.
Not content with filling every single waking moment of our lives with doing something, we pride ourselves on our ability to cram multiple activities into each one. Making that overdue phone call while driving home from work, helping the kids with their homework while making dinner, catching up with the news online while watching The Block. How super efficient we have become!
Even our leisure time is filled with stuff. Weekends pass with hardly a moment to sit down, and when we do eventually ‘relax’ we inevitably pick up a device, book or magazine or switch on the TV, or promptly fall asleep from sheer exhaustion.
Many of us find it almost impossible to do nothing. The prospect of having to wait a few unexpected minutes has us desperately, impatiently searching for something to do or to read to fill the time, lest it be wasted! It’s as if we are physically afraid a lightning bolt from above might strike us down if we’re caught slacking.
Yet doing nothing is one of the most simple, powerful and beneficial things we can do for our health and wellbeing. There is extensive research available on the virtues of mindfulness meditation in reducing stress and anxiety, and improving focus and memory. And increasingly research is also revealing benefits to our physical health, and the relationship between meditation and changes at the physical molecular level of the body.
So why aren’t we all doing nothing more often? And why aren’t we raising our kids to do nothing regularly? It sounds really simple and it is. We just need to slow down, create a little space, and give ourselves permission to do nothing once in a while.
Those of you who ever had toddlers will recall a time it took 10 minutes to walk a few metres down the street because they were fascinated by every stone, every leaf, every cigarette butt they passed, until you picked them up and carried them the rest of the way home - because you don’t have time to dawdle!
Let’s allow ourselves a few minutes each day to dawdle, to listen, to observe, to be in awe of small things, to re-connect with our external environment and our inner selves. Mindfulness meditation needn’t be 20 minutes of sitting crossed-legged on a cushion every day. It can be readily incorporated into our everyday lives.
Try one or more of these simple techniques over the next few days:
1. Set your alarm 5 minutes earlier than usual, before the household awakes, and sit in meditation for 5 minutes. Take 3 long, slow, deep breaths inhaling from the belly to the chest and exhaling from the chest to the belly. Simply observe how you and your body are feeling today.
2. At the bus stop/on the train/in the doctors surgery resist the temptation to look at your phone or read a book or magazine, instead take a few minutes to watch what’s going on around you, without judgment. Pay close attention to small things you've never noticed before.
3. Eat breakfast or lunch without any other distractions. Notice the colours, textures and flavours of your meal. Savour every mouthful. Contemplate where the individual ingredients came from and the process that went into creating your meal.
4. At your desk, close your eyes for a moment and become aware of your breath, notice the inhale and the exhale through the nostrils, the gentle rise and fall of the chest and the belly with each breath. See if you can count 5 long, slow, deep breaths.
5. Take a walk in nature and observe the flora and fauna that are present at this particular time of the year, tune into the individual sounds that are around at this time particular time of the day, notice the colours and smells, feel the air on your skin.
After a few weeks of consciously creating space for these brief moments of mindfulness, notice if you feel calmer, more centered. Liberated even. Enjoy the transformation. You are coming home to your self.