The importance of doing nothing
Today I chose to do as little as possible . . .
Why? The short answer is because I felt like it. The long answer is, because I know the value in listening to myself (mind and body) and respecting my limitations. I also know the value of silence and reflection.
So today I woke up and decided to do as little work as possible. I spent time quietly in my home with Bunty (world's worst puppy), I went for a walk and I did some laundry. Doesn't sound like anything special right?? Well, it felt pretty special. Today I spent as much time as I could in silence. This isn't as weird as it sounds, I didn't ignore the shop assistant in co-op or anything; I just ended up spending most of day happily in my own company and choosing not to fill the quietness with the radio or music.
When I am quiet I can truly know what is happening internally. Again, nothing weird; I'm talking about emotions, mood, energy level, needs that aren't being met etc. Today as soon as I glanced within, I realised I needed some time to slow down and do as close to nothing as I could get away with. So I spent the day occasional making small talk with Bunty. I'm joking; she was totally ignoring me after she rolled in manure and had to be washed. I walked in the countryside, pottered at home, and tried to ignore the ice cold stares Bunty was giving me.
Today made me realise that the idea of silence and doing nothing is only something I do because of mindfulness. So for everyone who doesn't practice mindfulness I feel the need to share with you benefits of doing nothing.
1. You notice more. This doesn't usually happen until a little ways into a mindfulness journey. But you begin to become intimate with the small changes within. I notice when I'm beginning to feel anxious or stressed, overwhelmed or unsettled. And when you start to notice these small changes in your mind and body you can respond more quickly. So when I feel anxiety rising (which is usually in response to something small), I remind myself that I am okay. If it's an activity or topic of conversation that has made me feel like this, then I have the opportunity to change something - either remove myself or change the conversation. If it's something I can't change then I take a few mindful deep breaths and tap into my inner calm (which I have worked VERY hard to achieve, believe me this doesn't happen overnight if you're an anxious person). By adopting this practice you also start to notice more about the world. Your clarity and your ability to pay attention increases. Colours appear brighter and everyday things seem more beautiful, this is explored more later.
2. You can create calm. I mentioned 'inner calm' in the last paragraph - I find this phrase super cringe but it's the best way I have found to describe it. So my inner calm, is not something I was born with. I think I was born with the opposite, a young mind that was prepared to over-think, over-analyse and worry about a world that I did not yet understand. Anyway, inner calm took a long time for me to create. This only happened through dedication to mindfulness and developing a practice I knew would help, eventually, to soothe my anxiety. I describe this phenomenon like putting money into a bank account . . . So for all the days that you practice mindfulness you're 'saving money' for a rainy day. And when that day comes and you feel stressed/anxious/overwhelmed you have a reserve there that you have built up; a thing that you can tap into for support. So many people will only practice mindfulness when they are experiencing a challenge (I used to do this all the time) and then when things settle down they stop practicing. But if you practice every day your savings build and build! I have witnessed people being genuinely shocked at the resilience they've managed to build up from spending only a short amount of time every day practicing mindfulness.
This is poem by the late Mary Oliver sums up the importance of doing nothing -
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
-the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
-who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
With your one wild and precious life?
My day wasn't exactly like Mary Oliver's; the sky was grey and overcast, if I'd knelt in the grass I would have been covered in a combination of mud and sheep poo, but it was great all the same.