The Cook Awakening

The Art of Doing Nothing

September 7, 2011
Posted in: Integrating Lifestyle Changes, Living with Health Challenges, Meditation, Seasonal Change

I write this on Labor Day evening, a cap on a quite perfect summer. The pace was well thought out, a balance of activity and rest, work and play.

It’s difficult to strike that balance in this culture of ours. We are inundated with opportunities, work situations that pressure us, and ideas of accomplishments. To resist this is indeed like swimming up stream.

This pell mell pace of life we’ve become accustomed to living has led to chronic adrenal fatigue in our culture. Our nervous systems are not designed to be “on” at all hours of the day and night.

I lived in India some years ago, before family life. I was single and focusing on my spirit, and I went over to sit a meditation retreat in Bodhgaya, the town where the Buddha was enlightened.

I was unprepared for the intense beauty of the country, the overwhelming barrage of sensory stimulation in every moment. The light was golden and bright. There was never a moment when I didn’t smell something, from the sublime to the foul. The colors were never muted, from clothing to paint. Food was spicy, sweet, fried, rarely bland. The full array of life at its most vibrant and most decayed was on display. I learned to dodge cantankerous cows in city streets. I was battered by wild monkeys in temples, and prayed for my life while being driven by drunken rickshaw drivers.

I fell utterly and helplessly in love with her. With India.

She taught me the art of doing nothing.

We have this idea in the west that we can control our lives, if we only try hard enough. There is a predictability we strive for, schedules we create and work hard to maintain. Shops have hours of operation, schools and workplaces begin and end their days at certain times. We make appointments and keep them.

It’s an illusion, really. It works as planned often, but we all stub our toes against reality. That reality that says, “I am life and you cannot control me.” If we’re lucky the stubbed toe is minor – we hit a traffic jam we didn’t expect that makes us late. A child comes down with the flu and you have to take a day off work to take care of her.

And most of us at least once or twice in our lives hit the big wall of reality. We or a loved one has an accident or an illness that is life threatening. A home burns down. A job is lost.

In India, nothing is predictable. Places of business have hours of operation, but they don’t always follow them. There are obscure holidays and random labor strikes that shut entire towns down periodically. Animals live in close proximity to humans and can create havoc in many interesting ways. The good, the bad, and the ugly are in evidence simultaneously at all times – pious pilgrims praying, passing dead bodies on the streets, beggars whining “doh, doh” (give, give), while wedding parties in vivid gold and red finery trudge by in the dust.

I ended up living in Mother India for two years. She shook me, caressed me, taught, humbled and burned me clean. And I learned that when things didn’t happen the way I thought they should, I had a choice. I could be miserable, or I could pay attention to what was actually happening. This is true meditation.

Upon returning to the United States, our culture’s habit of doing was very clear to me, in sharp relief to the slower pace I had become accustomed to. I’m grateful for the skills I’d learned there, of accepting life on life’s terms, and of discernment. I know I have a choice in how I respond, and what I do with my time. Work will always need to be done. But I use that hard won gift of discernment when necessary to create space for myself and my family to relax. To practice the art of doing nothing.

I invite you to give yourself and your family the gift of doing nothing whenever you realistically can.
It is undeniably beneficial to eat well, exercise, and avoid chemicals and allergens in our environment, but this is only part of regaining our health. Truly relaxing is a vital piece of the puzzle of mental and physical wellbeing.

What does that look like for you? For me, it is sometimes saying no to invitations to events. It is seeing the writing on the wall when a day or week becomes too congested, and canceling plans without a backward glance. It means looking at the calendar and blocking out days or weeks where only the essentials get done. Taking a few minutes every day to sit still and breathe. Laughing at silly jokes at the dinner table with the family. Learning to play a new game, or an old one. Singing a song at the top of my lungs. Dancing. And knowing that all of this is as valuable as school, as work, and as keeping a schedule.

It also means seeing the gift in the things that to “go wrong”. Being bogged down in traffic becomes a time to sit still and breathe. A sick child is an opportunity to reconnect with your nurturing soul and have a day off work, or work at a slower pace.

And the tragedies that befall us? The deepest spiritual awakenings often come through the willingness to walk through these events with eyes open. We can come to know what is truly important, and what is not.

As we head out of the (hopefully) lazy days of August into the doing of September, please remember to reserve a little time for you. For your children. For your partner. Especially for you.

May it not take a tragedy for you to know what is truly important in your life.

This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 7th, 2011 at 12:41 am and is filed under Integrating Lifestyle Changes, Living with Health Challenges, Meditation, Seasonal Change. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.


6 Responses to “The Art of Doing Nothing”

  1. Kim Says:

    This couldn’t have shown up at a greater time. This statement most resonates with me today: We have this idea in the west that we can control our lives, if we only try hard enough.

    And I would add that at times, I beat myself up when I do try and still don’t manage to control my life. Life is messy. Great food for thought…

  2. Dori Says:

    Thank you Durga.

  3. Sherri Brown Says:

    I love this Durga Thank you!

  4. Durga Says:

    Thanks all – and yes, Kim, life is messy. Which I have to be shown over and over again. The tendency to want to control hasn’t completely gone away, but understanding that I can’t control it comes more quickly now.

    Sometimes it’s hard to love being human.

  5. Shivani Says:

    I also like India, thanx for sharing

  6. admin Says:

    Hi, Shivani – thanks for reading. And for your writing!

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