Why is it we all seem to not be able to just do nothing anymore? What about just napping in the afternoon? What’s the last book you read without the TV blaring in the background? How many of you have taken the time to merely take an hour’s walk on the Presque Isle beaches?
When I mention doing nothing, I don’t mean just sitting on your couch or Lazy-Boy and mindlessly watching TV. I mean you do not feel it is necessary to always be productive or to be doing something planned or specific. That does mean using your time to read, write, go for a walk, or take some photos without feeling forced to do it when you don’t want to.
Sometime, somehow “doing nothing” has turned into something that seems to give all of us a guilt trip. It has been quite recently that I realized that I too have been falling into this trap. My two recent visits to the hospital have made me realize that my outings to Presque Isle without a hint of self-improvement or a specific goal or something to accomplish just was not happening anymore. There was always a particular photo that I needed or a stop at the lighthouse to check on the construction progress or some other task the needed to be done. For some really foolish reason I fell into the guilt trip trap that seems to be the vogue in today’s world. This is crazy, as I know deep, deep down, this is not true.
The Italians have a great term for the joy and art of doing nothing; it is la dolce far niente, or in English the sweetness of doing nothing. In Italy, most native Italians value this and have learned to practice it quite regularly.
While I was in the hospital I met what I consider a most amazing man. I was lucky enough to be able to talk to him about the importance of doing nothing, or as he does, taking five or ten minutes to meditate. However, as he explained, it only takes a few minutes and a noiseless place to sit and be quiet. He said that this has become a twice a day ritual in his exceptionally busy life.
He and I also talked about what should genuinely matter in our lives. He told me that his family more or less forcefully guided his life into a very meaningful profession where he could always be sure to provide his family with a secure future. Nevertheless, he never lost his true desire and loves to be a poet, writer and artist. He told me that he does still continue this true goal by practicing it in his off time away from his profession. He also told me that he has continually believed that the quality of our life experiences and the ability to be awakened to what is real and true in our lives should form the basis of all our lives.
While I never thought of this as a form of meditation, I believe a simple slow pleasurable sightseeing walk on Presque Isle or maybe even just sitting on one of the park’s old sway-back wooden picnic tables watching the quiet lagoon waters, Presque Isle Bay or maybe Marina Lake has always been my way of doing nothing. In Japan, they call it shinrin –yoku – or in English “forest bathing.” I call it a walk on the park, and this is my form of meditation.
I have also been known to wander off on one of Presque Isle’s woodland trails and find an old log and quietly sit and watch nature come alive in ten minutes or so. You would not believe what happens after the creatures of the forest come out from hiding and accept your presence. One time while I was sitting on an old log near the water’s edge of Horseshoe Pond a mink came running out of the cattails right up to within three feet of where I was. He stopped, looked up at me, and sat up on his back legs and just twitched his cute little nose at me for about five minutes. That was one of my “Joy of Doing Nothing” minutes.
Recent studies have shown that each day more and more people are beginning to realize the restorative power of doing nothing and turning to nature. The specific benefits, both physical and mental, that nature can provide range from clean air, lack of noise, traffic and as some scientists say the immune boosting natural effects of the fine mist of “wood essential oils” that are present in the woodland air. To me, it is actually just the welcome pause in my busy life that is most important and definitely not a waste of my time.
Since getting out of the hospital, I have read six or seven great articles about the Art of Doing Nothing and how you can get started. The following are a few general ideas I picked up within those articles.
You might find actually doing nothing, in its true sense, might be a bit overwhelming if you try to do too much all at once. Your mind might try to force you back to that important THING you MUST do instead. So it is best to start small. Focus on testing a 10 or 20 minute nothing time. You do not need to be away from home. You can start in your bedroom or other quiet place. First, ditch the TV, radio and cell phone, because doing nothing is impossible with these distractions calling you to other mostly unimportant things.
Now sit or lie down and do nothing. Slowly clear your mind. If thought of business or other daily duties or tasks enter your mind, try to bring yourself back and concentrate on your breathing. The idea is to breathe in slowly and deeply and then out slowly. Yes this is the mediation-like part of doing nothing but, my goal here is to get you to do it regularly. Try this for a week or two and see how it genuinely will become a wonderful break from your thing- packed world.
Once you have passed this initial stage, it is time to move this gentle art out into nature. Find a peaceful place – – in your backyard, a park, the woods, Presque Isle or any other quiet place outdoors. Once found, try to expand your time to 30 to 45 minutes. Out in nature, there are fewer distractions and you should be able to free yourself from the day-to-day stresses of life.
Your next step might be to combine a walk in nature with a 20 minute stop in a quiet place. In Erie in the winter, this might mean a 45 minute walk followed by a 20 minute in-home do nothing time. This will work quite well. I suggest this because the walk will tend to soothe the mind and, in the process, change the working of your brain in ways that can improve your mental health. There have been many studies that confirm there are definitely healthful effects on the brain generated by visiting nature.
Here in the Erie area, we are exceptionally fortunate to have a number of wonderful places to begin and continue our “Art of Doing Nothing” practice. I suggest considering the following:
Presque Isle State Park Asbury Woods Zuck Park
Erie Bluffs State Park Scott Park Raccoon Park
Frontier Park Glenwood Park Lake Erie Community Park
For more places to walk and practice the “Art of Doing Nothing” go to
trails.pLetsmoveoutside.org/hp on the web
We all can be distracted by email, iPhones, the ping of a new text message, the bad news on TV and the pressures of work, of relationships and family. It is easy to become stressed and miss the extraordinary gifts life has to offer. Maybe slowing down a bit and taking a break by simply practicing the “Art of Doing Nothing” can take some of that stress out of your life and move you toward the “Joy of Doing Nothing”. I am going to make this my only 2017 New Year’s resolution and give it a real try. What about you? I hope all of you have a Merry Christmas and and a Happy New Year. Here’s to a wonderful 2017!
See you on the park!!
This post was written by admin