We are told that in the past, may be few millennium ago, sages in India used to carry out a penance for the sins committed by them by spending years in total solitude and would isolate themselves in secluded high mountains of Himalayas, to achieve a state of transcendental Nirvana. When Buddhism came to India, the tradition continued with monks continuing the tradition. In his book, The Heart of the World, A journey in Tibet's Lost Paradise: the author Ian Baker, well versed with Buddhist philosophy and Tantric Buddhism mysteries, describes his meetings and encounters with Tibetan monks spending days or even months in complete seclusion in the high mountain ranges. He is able to look at all physical hardships and enchanting experiences during the expeditions from a neutral and non connected view point and even tries it out.
But for normal folks like you and me, this is strictly out of bounds. Neither we have the mental strength, nor capacity to bear such physical hardships. Yet there is a way in which, we can try this out at a miniscule kind of level with no physical hardships at all. Let me explain with an example.
Few days back, my wife decided to make a day trip to Mumbai. She had planned to leave early in the morning and was going to return same night. Since I would be alone through out that day, she was very anxious about me and suggested several assignments, which I could take up during course of that day. As usual, I agreed to everything she suggested. On her return, she was very curious about my day and enquired as to how was my day. I told her that I was very comfortable and did not get bored at all. Next morning, she found out that I had not even touched any of those assignments, which she had suggested. She naturally felt that I must have got stiff bored and must have spent my time in melancholy loneliness. It took me a lot more convincing her that I was happy and satisfied that day, not doing anything. I told her that by now, I have fairly perfected my ‘Art of doing nothing’.
Some of my relatives and friends, who are actually older than I am, still go to work, to keep themselves continuously busy. If due to some minor illness or other reasons beyond their control, they are unable to carry on with their work, they are very much upset and become very anxious about returning to work. I think they probably feel extremely insecure, without that mental shield, which their work sphere provides to them. When they are working, they are somebody to reckon with and receive due recognition, from their work.
We all seem to have inside our mind, a mental block or a conscious prick, which keeps on pricking us, when we sit idle without doing anything. It motivates us when we are young and re-fires our ambitions. However, as we grow old, this burning desire to achieve something in life actually starts to become a hindrance to our peace and tranquility of mind. Therefore, the first step towards mastering this art is to overcome this conscious prick. We must realize that if we stop working, or do not take up a job or an assignment immediately, the sky is not going to fall or the world is not going to come to an end. None of us is all that important.
Our frame of mind is really of great importance. While idling, if we keep on thinking about the great opportunities that we are missing by this wastage of time, the idling would only increase agitation in our mind. The aim of this ‘Art of doing nothing’ is to improve mental health and not degenerate it. It is obvious that we should not carry on any activity such as TV surfing, reading or knitting while idling. We should do nothing. In an ideal situation, which is very difficult to achieve, our thought processes also must come to a full stop. That is something for a ‘Yogi’ and not for ordinary mortals like us.
Once we succeed in removing this feeling of guilt from our minds, next logical step would be to start thought processes on some absolutely neutral or harmless subjects. These subjects usually must be issues for which we have neither any feelings nor opinions. As an example, we might think about ‘Why all the sparrows have disappeared from the city while the crows seem to live happily?’ The main purpose of such thought processes is to remove from our minds, subjects for which we have feelings. Any subject that produces strong reaction is absolutely No-No. One major pit-fall here is to select a very boring and complicated subject. Such a subject may induce sleep and sleeping is ‘Doing Something’. Major difference between a pro ‘Nothing Doer’ and an amateur is the ease with which the pro would find a subject to think.
Once we reach here, the crucial stage in ‘Art of doing nothing’ becomes apparent. Our mind may think about the original neutral subject for some time but would soon get tired. It is very important that we do not allow the mind to wonder to some other subject but stick on to the same old subject. Only this way we can train our minds to reach the stage of sublime saturation where our mind virtually gives up thinking. Once we reach this stage, we can consider that we have reached the ‘Nothing Doing’ stage and can continue in it as long as we desire.
Once we master this art or technique of ‘Doing Nothing’, our life would immediately shift from a fast lane to a slow lane. We would realize that many things we cherished, such as eating in a particular five star hotel or buying a particular branded shirt are in fact irrelevant and futile. The do or die feeling in our mind about getting a promotion or an increment would loose its sharp edge. We would realize there is much more around us, which needs appreciation. The nature, trees, flowers, sunsets, darkening of the sky before the rains and, laughter of happily playing children, such a bounty is around us. The things we always wanted to do as kids are still there for us to do. Even the daily work routine or the household chores no longer appear so boring because we know that after the work is over we can have our golden moments of ‘Doing Nothing’.
Life is certainly beautiful but you cannot enjoy it unless your mind is at peace. One of the easiest ways to get there is to master ‘Art of Doing Nothing’.
11th February 2014