I asked my Dharma teacher what his practice was, and he said doing nothing. I struggle with doing nothing. I don’t see how it is positive.
I look into a world of sharp edges, with issues, big issues. We fight for equality, we fight for dignity, we work to feed the starving and get frustrated at the fact there is enough food in the world to feed everyone, yet people still die of hunger. I struggle with the idea that doing nothing is a positive spiritual practice.
There is always something to do, there are papers to write, tests to grade, programs that won’t code themselves and the poor are always with us. There is so much to do–there isn’t enough time. So how then is doing nothing good? How do I give myself permission for…nothing?
One Buddhist Lama in India spoke to his student about how difficult it can be in the West to practice. He was a yak herder until he was 12 then he went to the monastery. He never owned an iPhone, never watched TV, and seldom ever heard a radio. He asked “Don’t American’s have a battery inside, why do you always have to be plugged in?”
As I meditate and work hard at doing nothing I hear my father’s voice ring through my head. My father worked very hard and still does. He never understood my work as a minister or my brother’s work as a social worker. He said, “I just don’t understand getting paid to talk to people–you dig a ditch you get paid, you talk for fun.”
I remember my unemployment, I remember the shame of not contributing, the shame of not accomplishing, the shame of getting nothing done. I worked hard those many months, I worked hard while getting nothing done.
But what if getting nothing done and doing nothing are two different things? So I sit, and face the spiritual practice of doing nothing. It is difficult to give myself that permission, especially when there is a list of things to do and a full DVR to watch. I sit to meditate, then I wonder what is new on YouTube, I sit in silence and wonder how my favorite shows will end, I sit to pray and wonder when it will be over so I can return to contributing. That’s my monkey mind, a mind so busy it runs around like a monkey from topic to topic. I don’t hear the silence of peace, I hear only the chatter of what needs done.
The Hebrew Bible says “Blessed is Sabbath, and you keep it holy.” God not only gives permission but makes the demand that his people rest, and though we may not all believe in God, what if we just chose to believe in rest? What if we look to ourselves, and acknowledge that humans need rest, deserve rest, and thrive with rest. What if rest is so important it is like doing something?
The holidays are upon us, and though generally assumed we will rest, do we really ever rest? We have to cook, clean, shop, and deal with broken relationships. There are expectations–that year after year we do not meet. It is easy then to be filled with shame over those expectations but in truth what if we decided our expectations are wrong-not us?
Would it be different if we cooked because we wanted to, gave and received gifts out of love, and understood that even in our brokenness we can be one? Then, maybe, instead of seeking entertainment we found that the best entertainment is none at all–that Doing Nothing may be the most important thing we will ever do? – Justin M McCreary