I used to look down on people who lie on the beach in the sun, doing nothing. I felt superior to people who sat on a plane, staring into space. Oh sure, I said I envied them; but secretly I felt that I was more productive, more driven, a better person. Clever people like me were always busy.
Now, though, I’m beginning to really wish I could be better at doing nothing. In part it’s just greener grass: something I find so hard to do must be worthwhile. But I’m also coming to realize that the act of doing nothing is important; doing nothing achieves things that doing things can’t.
The “doing” of inactivity is being. What I now envy in the contented sunbather is that their body and mind are happily relaxed in each other’s company. Inactivity means being at ease with oneself. “Just being” also means being open. Ideas present themselves; I suddenly experience how I’m feeling, rather than just noticing it; and I’m fleetingly aware of my body working.
Joshua Reynolds said, “There is no expedient to which a man will not resort to avoid the real labour of thinking.” For myself, there is no expedient to which I will not resort (including writing a blog entry rather than meditating) to avoid the real labor of doing nothing.
Being able to do nothing requires accepting my own company. I don’t like being with myself; I don’t like me. That’s why distracting activity is so useful. If I’m occupying myself with e-mail, reading, watching a film or listening to music, then I don’t have to attend to me. I don’t have to confront the inadequacy of my thinking, my tawdry pre-occupations, and my moaning about being unable to do anything worthwhile.