"That man has reached immortality who is disturbed by nothing material" ~ Swami Vivekananda

Sacred Space: Reflections

The Art of Doing Nothing

Romola Butalia spoke to several people about 'doing nothing'. This article was first published in 'The Independent'.

Ask people who are living a full life, who exude a sense of vibrancy and joy and who are alive and responsive to the world around them what they enjoy doing and, almost invariably, you find that high on their list of joys is doing precisely nothing.

"I enjoy doing nothing," says cartoonist Mario Miranda, who can spend hours just watching people and is content with his own company. Even as a child he used to play alone often, imagining and creating his own activities. On the other hand, he hates wasting time. How does he reconcile the two ? "Some people are wasting time when they just sit around. When I'm doing nothing, I'm not wasting my time, " he explains perfectly logically.

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Underwater Ad-man and scuba-diver Prahlad Kakar, who enjoys living on the brink and is excited by the dangerous and the novel, still thinks that "sorting out your mind is a relevant aspect of living. I consciously do it by sitting alone in a dark room. Doing nothing is a form of meditation really."

"My god, I love doing nothing," says Asit Chandmal, software and financial consultant, who takes plenty of time off to allow things to happen and then writes about it. Looking blissful just talking about it, he says, "The art of doing nothing is the greatest art. Something and everything happens to me when I'm doing nothing. By doing something, nothing happens. The mind is like a cup that is full to the brim and must be emptied to absorb experiences."

According to Chinese wisdom, "clay is moulded into vessels, and because of the space where nothing exists we are able to use them as vessels" (the Tao Te Ching). Man's greatest achievements have been a result of reflection. As Stephen Hawking said, "The idea of gravity came to Newton as he sat in a contemplative mood."

Creativity is essentially the manifesting of the unmanifest and involves the unleashing of an energy harnessed in silence and solitude. Man's spirituality and his philosophies have arisen out of contemplative absorption and meditation, leading to insights.

Yet to-day, caught as we all seem to be in a vortx of hectic activity, trained to be constantly doing something in a world that only credits output, respects money and measures success quantitatively, we are losing touch with ourselves. There is no time to search for one's original spirit. Most of us harbour a sense of guilt about the time spent doing nothing.

Our greatest moments of joy are often felt when we catch glimpses of our inner selves in a fleeting moment with a quietened mind, not the moments that bring accolades. We are rarely aware of life and living except when we sit back doing nothing.

Give me a day to sit by the sea, hour after hour, watching the waves break as the tides come in and go out again. Or a day in the high Himalayas surrounded by snow and the sheer blue sky, watching eagles fly where only eagles dare. With time to do nothing, one sees butterflies and woodpeckers, glow-worms and flying squirrels. Even the falcon stops still in it's tracks before flying again. Watch the flames of a fire and spend a night under the stars miles out from nowhere, and the only dream one is left with is of time to do nothing.

Shen-hui, one of the greatest Zen masters, said, "Seeing into nothingness, this is true seeing and eternal seeing."

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.