Continuing on our theme of mindfulness, our title today is taken from a book of the same name by ground breaking author and founder of the University of Massachusetts Stress Reduction Center Clinic (1992), Jon Kabat-Zinn. The book (long since dog-eared and worn by its continual use by me as an invaluable personal instruction manual), reflects “his major research interests which include mind/body interactions for healing, clinical application of mindfulness meditation for people with chronic pain and stress-related disorders, and the societal applications of mindfulness.”
We all at times change our circumstances, changing jobs, spouses, home locales, and some of it necessary. Likewise, it is the rare individual that doesn’t love to take a vacation. Vacating your life for a while, whether for a week, a month, or even a long weekend, has a way of pushing the refresh button on our spirits. We all log in so much information and activity every day and the amount we delete never seems to really clear our head of it all.
Planning a trip is half the fun, cruising the internet for the best deals and unexpected finds, purchasing travel books and magazines on places you are getting ready to visit or are dreaming of going to some day hold future promises of enjoyment, instilling joy in us just in the thinking. Shopping for the right attire and gear also occupy us happily. Even when are lives are currently rife with crisis or a season of grief, a holiday can bring a welcomed respite and the chance for perspective that can arise from being pulled from our everyday surroundings.
Concurrently, whatever problems you have, whatever inner turmoil, doesn’t necessarily or even likely cease just because you have gone somewhere other than your daily haunts or made significant life changes. If you have been struggling with sadness, anger, anxiety, or resentments before you left or altered your lifestyle, chances are there will be moments while you are away that these emotions still arise. You can keep changing a whole lot of outside circumstances and still feel like something is missing, like it will be better around the bend. But wherever you go, there you are. As I have mentioned before, there are a million ways to escape our lives for a time, but they all have a way of catching up with us.
So, what to do if we can’t take a vacation, or if the vacation didn’t take, or most vitally, if we want to live our days in a way where we can experience moments like those we do on some of the more memorable, exceptional times away?
We need to learn the art of non-doing. As Jon Kabat-Zinn points out, “The flavor and joy of non-doing are difficult for Americans to grasp because our culture places so much value on doing and on progress. Even our leisure tends to be busy and mindless. The joy of non-doing is that nothing else needs to happen for this moment to be complete. The wisdom in it, and the equanimity that comes out of it, lies in knowing that something else surely will.”
We are not just doing nothing, but consciously noticing what’s going on right now. In Thoreau’s Walden, he explained it like this:
I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise to noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time…I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works.”
It is the opposite of busyness. While practically speaking, we need to get stuff done, can we carve out five minutes, or better yet, twenty minutes to just be? Our efforts during our times of doing will be enhanced. This is what Zinn calls the paradox of non-doing. You do things of value when you don’t care about whether they will be worthy or not, but whether they act in concet with your efforts at non-doing and letting go of outcomes. Then the ego and its tendency towards self aggrandizement are pushed aside, creativity and insight become natural byproducts. Your work gains a purity and satisfaction that has no puffed up identity attached to it. It fulfills.
So, if today finds you sitting with your daughter, don’t put in another load of laundry, don’t answer the phone (I know it’s calling and the impulse is to move), but just be with your daughter, whether talking or in silence, be consciously present to this moment which will never come again in the exact same way. Choose to be here, right now, you are anyway.