On Saturday, I achieved a feat so remarkable, they should probably write a book about me (or a blog post). For 30 straight minutes, I “played Legos” with my 5-year-old without checking my phone, glancing at a magazine or talking to another person. My daughter had my complete focus and attention. I was fully present as meditation experts like to say, and the time was glorious.
What was the secret to holding this Spock-like level of concentration? I’ll tell you. I did nothing. Nothing? Uhhhh, you just said you played Legos for 30 minutes straight. How is that “doing nothing?” While my fingers were pressing down yellow and green blocks to help my daughter build an “Elve Chariot,” I was telling my brain over and over and over again, “do nothing, do nothing, do nothing.” I was saying this, because my ego, shadow, brain, or whatever it is that generates thoughts was yelling the following:
“How much longer until my wife comes home?”
“Is the weather going to be warm tomorrow so we can go for a hike?
“The evil Elve King on the front of this Lego box has abnormally large arms for being an elf.”
These were the thoughts within the first 1.6 seconds of settling down in the living room to play. Over the course of the next 29.97 minutes, I was faced with an equally insane number of random thoughts trying to distract me from having some quality time with my daughter. Instead of texting my wife and asking her when she would be home; instead of pulling out my phone and looking up the weather for tomorrow; and instead of googling, “why are the evil Elve King’s arms so big?” I did nothing.
I have been meditating daily for several years now and most days I would struggle to passionately convince a non-meditator to take up a practice. While there is certainly no downside to sitting in silence and focusing on your breath, most days I get up from my pillow or chair and think, “well, that was that.” The act of meditating is usually a rather unfulfilling event. Dharma doesn’t fly out of my ass, I don’t merge with the body of Buddha, and many times I feel less relaxed than when I initially sat down. I continue to meditate because every once in a while, I receive a nugget of knowledge or an awareness so profound that when it hits me over the head, it makes all the time spent listening to my breath (when I could be doing anything else, like googling Lego Elve King arms), worth it. The revelation that I need to “do nothing” is the most recent reward.
You would think that after having a consistent meditation practice where the whole point is to “do nothing,” that I would have seen the value of this mantra for when I’m going about my day, not sitting on a chair in the dark. Every day when I turned off the lights to my basement and started my “practice,” the message was staring me in the face, but I wasn’t listening.
I didn’t listen until just recently, when I sat down at my desk and ended up unexpectedly planning out all of 2019. While going through the planning exercise, I constantly had the uncomfortable urge to stop what I was doing and check email or text a friend or just give up. Rather than do any of these things, when an urge came up, I did absolutely nothing. For me, “doing nothing” was staring at my computer or staring out the window. Not just any staring – hard staring…at nothing. (To really get my point, think of Keanu Reeves saying, “not just any staring – hard staring…at nothing” and you will see the true enlightened meaning of my words).
Just like during my meditation practice, when a wild thought comes out of the most random portion of my memory bank, if I just stared long enough, while not fixating on the thought or urge, it eventually let go of me and I was freed to get back to the planning task at hand. As the days have gone on, I have found that “doing nothing” can be applied everywhere at nearly every time of the day. Take for example this blog post I’m writing. I carved out 2 hours of my schedule to write, got a nice cup of tea for creative inspiration and with the sun shining into my office all I could do was stare at the window and “do nothing.” What thought could be so powerful to distract this amazing writing flow I’m in? This thought…
“Wow, I just wrote about Keanu ‘Freaking’ Reeves in a blog post. Dude, Keanu Reeves is the man! Remember Point Break? Remember Point Break? Of course I remember Point Break! Johnny Utah could throw a football over those mountains, surf 50 foot waves after just 2 weeks of practice and jump out of an airplane without a parachute all to catch California’s baddest armed robber, Ghost aka Patrick Swayze! Remember when Keanu said, “he’s not coming back?”? Of course I do! That line is EPIC! So epic that you should probably stop writing RIGHT NOW and go lookup a meme of Keanu saying it.”
Now that I’m back from staring out the window (hard), while trying not to think about Keanu’s amazing surfer hairdo from Point Break, I’ll conclude with this. In the week that I have been “doing nothing,” I’ve noticed myself completing tasks more quickly, being more attentive to the needs of my children, and generally being happier. Has this just been a random good week or does the mantra actually work!? Try doing nothing and see if it does something for you too.
Author Bio: Dan started Fired and Free in 2017, to provide his “truth” after being fired as CEO of the company he started and led. After a diverse 17-year career in management consulting and entrepreneurship, Dan now leads 3Sixty Leadership, where he provides coaching and consulting to business owners with 5 to 500 employees, helping them to work “on” their business not “in” their business.