The art of doing nothing
Could stillness be the answer to the challeanges of modern life?
Ever since my car stereo broke down, I’ve had more time to day dream on my commute, and it’s been quite nice to drive in silence. Ever so often, my thoughts drift to my childhood summer vacations at my grandparents’ house in Lucknow in North India. We’d play outdoors all morning and then get home for a cozy afternoon nap. It was just the desert air-cooler, ceiling fans and good old cross-ventilation that kept us cool. Lying on a thin floor mattress next to my grandma, imagining mysterious and secret adventures with Nancy Drew or the Famous Five, or creating engaging dialogues with my two fingers as leading characters kept me thoroughly entertained, till it was time for tea and biscuits! And this was a perfectly acceptable way to spend every single afternoon of our summer vacations.
Today, lying awake for hours twiddling your thumbs and creating stories in our head, is unthinkable. The sheer innocence of those almost carelessly unplanned days is replaced with hobby classes, play dates and a number of other activities. Children as young as 3 and 4 years old are kept busy, and it’s us parents who are creating this new scheduled reality for them, leaving little or no time to stop and think.
Doing nothing is a beautiful skill; it’s an art form with an old world charm, and must not be confused with being lazy and lackadaisical. It is literally about the art of doing nothing. Did you know that around 72 per cent people claim they get the most brilliant ideas in the shower? There have been studies showing that our brains are at their most innovative level when they’re resting, not when they’re busy collecting and processing more information. It is at that exact moment of bliss or rest that our mind gets the perfect opportunity to generate something genius.
Think Isaac Newton and the apple; he found the answer when he was doing literally nothing. Buddha became enlightened while meditating under the Bodhi tree. Neither of them was busy or scrambling around. That’s why you will remember that missing crossword puzzle word when you’re sipping your evening tea, or think up a brilliant solution when you’re out walking your dog. It’s just how the brain functions. Sometimes we can push ourselves into moments of high creativity and sometimes we find our Eureka moments in the most unexpected places. Be open to both.
We all know how to do nothing, but many of us are too busy to do it. And even when we do it, our minds tend to linger on other things. Either something in the past or some future event. It becomes hard to let go, relax and simply enjoy that delicious joy of nothingness. Poet W. H. Davies wrote way back in the early 1900s, “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare”, referring to how the hectic pace of modern life was slowly affecting the human spirit. Relevant then and even more relevant now.
Here are some ideas:
Ease the information overload: In a recent study, a group of college students were disconnected from social networks for a week. They did everything else their batchmates did. After a week, the students who were off some social networks, were found to be more optimistic and creative in their work, happier with their life and communicated better. The fact that no extra information was coming into their brains brought them into a state of rest and peace. There is wisdom in detoxing from your devices a few hours each day. Begin with switching off for the first half hour and last half hour of your day, and meal times, of course.
Your body will thank you: Our society and culture will always push us to work more and study more. Executives brag about multitasking and getting few hours of sleep, and wear it almost like a badge of honour. Bill Clinton said that he made his career’s worst mistakes when he was burnt out and exhausted. The art of doing nothing can solve a lot of such problems, and keep us away from overloading our brains and triggering psychological failure. Pause and renew your system, and your body will thank you by using this space to bring you brilliant ideas. The busier you are, the greater should be your need to switch off.
Day dream: “Time spent dreaming is as worthy as time spent doing,” says psychotherapist and psychological astrologer Jennifer Freed. Don’t dismiss this to “it’s just my imagination or that head-in-clouds feel”. What happens when we day dream is that we are claiming our imaginative life. This is when we dare to feel our longings and name our deepest desires even to just ourselves. It isn’t about sleepwalking through our lives; instead, we get to experience a sudden and undeniable surge of love, inspiration, glory and energy. So take a few moments out every day, and day dream.