Blog # 183
DON’T JUST DO SOMETHING. SIT THERE
I looked up the origin of this quote and found a number of possible
sources. I first heard it when I was reading the teachings of a popular Eastern guru. It made me laugh as I thought about the opposite messages I’d had during my life. A lot of us have been taught that “doing” is better than “not doing,” that being productive is better than doing nothing. But I think “not doing” gets a bad rap. We’re not meant to expend energy without taking time to rejuvenate. We’re not meant to work all day without sleeping at night. Even the
land needs a fallow season, a period to restore its fertility if we want it to grow crops. These aspects are part of the duality of life. The dark and the light. The high and the low. The male and the female. The “do” and the “be.”
I was recently telling Rhoni, one of my nearest and dearest friends, about a time when I had just finished writing a celebrity memoir. I was worn out, ghostwriting takes a lot of stamina as you speed toward an impossible deadline and try to keep a number of people happy along the way. Once it was in the publisher’s impatient hands, you get to exhale. So there I was, sitting in front of my computer, exhaling and feeling listless. I couldn’t write, I couldn’t move, but I also couldn’t sit still. I needed to rest but “doing” had become so habitual, I felt anxious and paralyzed, both at the same time.
The phone rang. It was my mother. “How are you?” she wanted
“I’m exhausted,” I said. “I have to figure out how to do nothing for a while so I can get my energy back. It’s really hard.”
She changed the subject and three days later, when I was
just getting the hang of letting go and taking it easy, I got a letter from Mom. She had advice for me. “I try do at least two unpleasant tasks every day,” she wrote, “just to keep up my discipline.” I remembered that whenever my parents were lying out in the sun, having a gin and tonic after a long day or on a Hawaiian vacation, they called themselves “lazy bums.”
So what is this “being productive” all about? Can we feel good about ourselves when we’re relaxing? There are different kinds of feeling
good about what we’re doing. It feels good to pay the bills so they don’t turn off our electricity. It feels good to teach and be of service. But it also feels good to just sit there. To breathe and read a good book. To paint or write or dance or do something as simple as staring out the windows. A friend’s mother was in town from back East and she was restless and anxious. My friend said, “Sit here mom, and look at the view.” Her mother harrumphed, gave it the
wrist and said, “I saw it last year.”
Sometimes it’s helpful to go to extremes to make a point. When I feel like I’m not being productive and wasting time, I think about
Buddhist monks who spend their time in a cave, meditating, sending compassion and good will out into the world. They don’t consider that a waste of time. To them, it’s a high calling.
“Doing” is fine, we enjoy creating and being with friends,
but “being” is highly underrated. If we learned anything during this pandemic, it was how to stop chasing our tails and sit still. It’s a discipline in itself. It’s a way to learn about what we like and what we don’t like. What we want and don’t want. When we relax and stop stressing, healing can happen.
Compassion becomes easier to find for ourselves and other people. So let me remind you once again:
Don’t just do something. Sit there.