7 Steps to Master The Art of Doing Nothing

“L’arte de non fare niente”

As you practice saying the Italian phrase above with the accompanying hand gestures and exaggerated accent (hmmm maybe it’s just me who does that with Italian…), know that it means, “The art of doing nothing.” You might say, “Sure, I know how to do nothing!” We all “know” how to lay around and do nothing. But, as one of my favorite proverbs goes:

To know and not do is not to know (I think yoda or buddha or someone cool like that said it)

In order to Ziji Up, create, and live a wildly fulfilling life, you need to be able to slow down and rejuvenate. This allows the space to “download” inspiration from your higher power, get back in touch with who you are and what you want your life to look like, and restore the energy needed to do the work you need to do to make it happen (and be able to do it joyfully).

Many of us are too busy to do nothing, and when we do it, our minds are often on other things. We cannot relax and enjoy the nothingness, which – by the way – is what makes it “wasting time” and even “boring.” While doing nothing can indeed be a waste of time, it can also be an art form. Here’s how to become a master, and in the process melt away the stress and make yourself more productive when you actually do work (Note: some of these Ziji steps are modified from an old article by Leo Babauta’s in his “Zen Habits” blog, one of my faves).

1) START SHORT AND SWEET

When one is doing nothing in the truest sense of the word, it can be overwhelming, leading to uneasy feelings of imminent spontaneous combustion. Do small nothings at first. Start with 5-10 minutes at a time.

2) THE SWEET SPOT

Find a time and place where there are not many distractions, noise, or people to bother you. Personally, I like to be outside in my backyard, or at a nearby beach, lake, or quiet park. When I’m in the home there are too many reminders of what I should be doing. However, if you are bothered by bugs and hummingbirds and other things that make noise when they move or could possibly land on you, stick to the house (just make sure you’re not at work or in a busy public place).

3) UNPLUG

Doing nothing is hard when we are being called to do something. Turn off cell phones, the TV, computer, regular phones, Blackberries, and the like.

4) NOW DO NOTHING

I know. The smart-asses out there will say you’re doing something – you’re sitting there or laying there, closing your eyes. But I mean doing nothing in the sense that if someone were to call you up and ask what you’re doing, you’d say “Oh, nothing.” Don’t let them call you up, though. 

After 5-10 minutes of doing nothing, you can quit and go do something. But try to do this every day, or as much as possible, because it is not possible to become a master without practice.

5) MASTER RELAXATION

An important part of doing nothing in longer stints is being able to completely relax. If we are tense, then the doing of the nothing is really in vain.

•    Relaxing starts by finding a comfortable place to do your nothing — a soft patch of grass, a comfy chair, a plush couch, a lazy hammock, or, in my case, a warm granite slab. Once you’ve found this spot, lie in it, and wiggle around to make it fit your body better (or for an advanced maneuver, make your body fit it better). Think of how a cat lies down, and makes itself comfortable. Cats are very, very good at doing nothing. You may never approach their level of mastery, but they make for great inspiration.

•    Next, try the following breathing practice. If this sounds like meditation, cast those suspicions out of your mind. We are not here to do suspicion — we are doing nothing. Breathing, like other bodily functions, happens. Start first by breathing slowly in, and then slowly out. Now closely monitor your breath as it enters your body, through your nose (feel the air as it passes the tip of your nose), and goes down your throat, into your lungs, and fills your lungs. Now feel it as it goes out of your body, through your mouth, and feel the satisfying emptying of your lungs.
Do this for 5-10 minutes, if you can. When you start thinking about other things, such as how great your Ziji Life would be if you were doing something, just bring your mind back to that feeling of air passing through the tip of your nose every time. Don’t smack yourself. Just go back to the breath.

If you’re still not able to relax and enjoy doing nothing, you may need to do a little something first.

  • Try progressive relaxation, slowly tensing and releasing muscles from the tips of your toes moving up towards the top of your head (the top of your head is quite advanced, however).
  • You can also try a hot foot soak, putting some hot water into a tub/large bowl and adding some Epsom salts or essential oils like lavender or rose. Be sure to put a towel underneath the tub so you don’t worry about getting water all over while you’re trying to relax. Soak for at least 10 minutes, closing your eyes and letting go.
  • Leo Babauta also suggests self massage. In his words: “Try self massage. Start with your shoulders and neck. Work your way up to your head and even your face. Also do your back, and legs and arms. Avoid any areas that might lead to doing something (although that can be relaxing too).”

Now that you are relaxed, stop doing something and start doing nothing again.

6) ADVANCED ACTIVITIES

Those who are in the beginning stages of the Art of Doing Nothing should not attempt this stage, as you are doing nothing for quite a while, and yet you’re sweating. But once you’ve become proficient at the above steps, the stage of the Bath or Sauna can be epic. For the following, have water or another preferred beverage nearby (see #6). Just make sure your hydration:dehydration ratio is healthy.

BATH

The bath must be nice and hot. Not lukewarm, but hot. Bubbles are also required, even if you are a man who is too manly for this. Other bath accessories, such as a loofah sponge, or bath gels, or aromatherapy oils, are optional.

Again, you must have all distractions shut off. Bathing is also best done if you are alone in the house, but if not, everyone else in the house must know that you CANNOT be disturbed. If they break this sacred rule, you must turn upon them with the Wrath and then get back to doing nothing.

Step into your bath, one foot at a time, very slowly. If your bath is properly hot, it is best if you get into it an inch at a time. For more sensitive body parts, such as the crotchal (is that a word?) area, it is best to squeeze your eyes shut tight and slowly lower yourself into the steaming water despite all instincts to flee. Once you are fully immersed (and you should go completely under, head included, at first), close your eyes, and feel the heat penetrating your body.

You may begin to sweat. This is a good thing. Allow the sweat to flow. You may need a glass of water as the sweat could dehydrate you. Allow your muscles to be penetrated by the heat, to be relaxed completely, and feel all your worries and stresses and aches and inner turmoil flow out of your body into the water.

SAUNA

Let the sauna heat up for at least 30 minutes, then walk in. You may need to sit on a towel to prevent the aforementioned instinct to flee, plus they are soft and fluffy and sanitary. Sit on the top level bench first to get the qi flowing, then move down to the lower bench if you start swooning.

Notice the beads of sweat forming, and imagine your body releasing all your tension and toxins. Let the sweat drip without wiping it off. Sip some water to replace the sweat. If you’re hard to sweat, toss some water on the rocks if it won’t cause an electrical fire of sorts. Try not to be one of those who does calisthenics in the sauna. This is Nothing sauna time. If you are near snow, get out when you can’t tolerate the heat anymore and roll in it (yeehaw!), then get back in the sauna.

A hot bath or sauna is even more awesome if followed by a bracing cold shower. Either way, get out of the bath once the water is no longer warm and your skin is very raisin-like, and get out of the sauna while you can still walk without passing out.

7) SENSUALITY

Doing nothing is also great when accompanied by involving some of the other senses. Good tea or coffee, wine, hot cocoa, and other sensual beverages go very well with the Art. It’s best to take these beverages by themselves, with no food, and without a book or other distractions. Focus on the liquid as you sip it slowly, savoring every bit of the flavor and texture and temperature in your mouth before swallowing, and feeling the swallow completely. Close your eyes as you do this. Truly enjoy this drink.

Foods are also great: dark chocolate, berries, rich desserts, freshly made bread, a juicy peach, the best soup ever, or whatever it is that you love. Be sure you eat it slowly, savoring every bite. Chew slowly, and close your eyes as you enjoy the food. Let it melt in your mouth if that’s applicable. Let the juice drip on your face. Feel the texture in your mouth. Yummmm!

INCORPORATING THE ART IN DAILY LIFE

Excerpted from Leo’s article, these are the “final exam” of mastering this Art. Don’t attempt these until you’ve practiced and become competent at the above stages.

  • Do nothing while you are waiting: waiting in line, at the doctor’s office, on a bus, or in the airport. Wait, without reading a newspaper or magazine, talking on the phone, checking your email, writing out your to-do list, doing any work, or worrying about what you need to do later. Just notice your breathing, or try one of the relaxation techniques above. Concentrate on those around you – watch them, try to understand them, listen to their conversations.
  • Do nothing when you drive. Yes, you must drive, but try to do nothing else. Don’t listen to music or news or an audiobook. Don’t multi-task. Don’t talk on your cell phone, don’t eat, and don’t do your makeup. Just drive. Concentrate on your driving, look at the things you are passing, and feel your breath.
  • Lastly, try doing nothing in the middle of chaos, in your workplace or other stressful environment. Just shut everything out, close your eyes, and notice your breathing. Try a relaxation technique. Do this for 5-10 minutes at a time. If you can do this, in the middle of a stressful day at work or with the kids, you will allow yourself to focus more fully on the task at hand. You will be relaxed and ready to concentrate to bring yourself into a state of flow.

Finally, the Art of Doing Nothing cannot be mastered in a day. It will take hours and hours of practice and hard work (doing nothing isn’t easy!). But you will enjoy every minute of it! Try it today, and let me know how it went for you below! Also, follow me in my Simplify 365 blogposts that I started August 1st, 2014, and watch me try to practice this reguarly…wish me luck!

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