Nothing to do, nowhere to go

Category : General advice, Philosophy 1st November 2020

Inside Yoga 311 (2/11/2020)

Our lives are filled with pressures: a continuous procession of things to do, sometimes we thrive on it, and other times, we feel overwhelmed, but what can we do to manage all this, and still keep going? How can the idea of doing nothing help us?

One of the hardest actions many people feel is the act of doing nothing: simply to stop can feel wrong for many of us, taking a break is all very well, but for many the break itself can be very busy itself, when we cram another activity into the break! Can we really hit the pause button?

Many feel guilty, because doing nothing is not possible; it is seen as giving up, and a sense of failure.

Before I offer the antidote, I do want to clarify that pressure is not the same as stressed. Pressure is needed at the right time, it is a part of life (the fight or flight function), because pressure helps us to do our job perform a required skill, and other ways in which our mind can sharpen its focus and concentrate. Stress is when the pressure has tipped over into something unhelpful and potentially harmful.

We need to learn how to take the pressure off for short periods of time.

Many of us have ways to do this, like a sport we play, a run or a walk, and so many ways we can switch off, or rather distract our mind away from what might not be so good for us. But as mentioned above, breaks can be just as busy.

This is why meditation teachings say that learning to do nothing is the solution. Admittedly, meditation is not doing nothing; it is an activity, but it is the most minimal activity I have come across, with the caveat that it trains us the quieten our mind at the same time, because doing nothing and day dreaming can lead to more stress as our mind could run away with itself and into something even more unsettling.

Meditation is an activity which requires effort, and the effort of doing nothing keeps our mind and body busy, and the result is a calmer and clearer state of mind, and a rejuvenated and rested body. Not bad for an activity which appears to be doing nothing.

The expressions: “Nothing to do, nowhere to go”; or “Being nobody, going nowhere” are useful reminders to us to do just that… or “be” just that! We are human beings not human doings!
One of the obstacles to a successful meditation is our attachment to our thoughts and our identity, or roles we see for ourselves.

When we sit for meditation we seek to quieten the chatter of our mind, and to find silence, nothing else. This can be hard when we are attached to the importance of our thoughts because we can mistakenly believe what we think is so important. During meditation we are taught to drop ALL thoughts, because even if we have a profound realisation, we are instructed to acknowledge the thought and its importance, and return to the silence between our thoughts. We are not meant to keep on rethinking our tremendous thought, with self-congratulatory applause of our ego. Our ego loves this, but this is not the point of the practice.

Of course, the Buddha discovered his enlightenment through meditation. When we achieve a controlled silence we are able to see more clearly and perhaps realise the truth our existence as the Buddha did (and many other important wise minds from history) so it can seem such a contradictory and paradoxical situation, but that is the nature of life. Subtle and confusing much of the time, whereas truth offers only short glimpses, so we need to be ready… doing nothing, aware and alert in meditation.

But our ego can get in the way: it depends on creating this attachment to who we think we are, what we think and the importance surrounding all this. We, in essence, refuse to give ourselves permission to stop: to do nothing, go nowhere, or be no one!

If we can just give ourselves permission to sit still, to stop our chattering mind, and take a break, it can be so beneficial for us in so many ways. It can soothe a restless and stressed body – it quietens a busy mind which is worried by so many things.

Only with stillness and clarity can we effectively deal with all the stuff which we have to face in our life. Stuff might not go away but our ability to cope is improved by stepping back, seeking silence, by saying to ourselves for a few minutes, “there is nothing to do, nowhere to go”.

Sounds easy, but it can be difficult because many of us refuse to stop. Part of the practice is learning that giving permission to ourselves to “do nothing, and go nowhere” for a short period of time on a regular basis is not wasting time, it is beneficial in the long term, and might well be just what we need.

If doing nothing is anathema to us, see it this way, by actively deciding to do “nothing” we are doing “something”; and therefore, we are not wasting time. The decision to do no “thing” is an activity in itself, in fact, anyone who meditates will be aware of how busy we can be keeping the chattering mind quiet, just sitting and staying still takes will power and perseverance, especially when new to the practice because it is so easy to succumb to the temptations of a distracted mind. There is always something else to do!

So, meditation is not doing “nothing”. It is a challenging and difficult activity some of the time, other times, we are faced by sleepiness when we stop and sit. Other times, it will all feel perfect and we will enjoy being still. Change is constant when we sit still. Watching the passing moods and sensations teaches us a lot about our mind, and our body. Gradually through practice we begin to feel, and see, our emotional body shake off the pressures and stresses of keeping up with the pace of life. It is the moment when we fill an unravelling and sudden moment of relaxation.
But staying still might need a few tricks of the mind, and telling our own mind, like we would when teaching our dog to obey commands, we insist on it staying put and reassuring ourselves in a calming and friendly way, that sitting still is the right action right now. Sit! Stay!

It is a simple instruction, but a difficult one. But after more than 25 years of practice I believe that the practice helps and works. And with time, it gets easier to settle into stillness, our body memory recognises the situation and will relax and rejuvenate. Our mind will accept, gradually, the calming effect of silence.

And the expression being no one is an important step in cancelling out the negative influence of our ego, which is driven by the need to be someone and keep doing stuff. The importance of “ME” can overwhelm, so by simply being no one, going nowhere can come as a relief to many of us. Time off, from the pressure to keep up, not just with everyone else, but with demands of our own ego!

“Nothing to do, nowhere to go”, is a solution to our busy lives filled with pressures to keep going and keep up.

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