Doing Nothing… Insight From Martha

TailLob2Yesterday I went whale-watching with my son Adam and my partner Karen. It was a beautiful day, and there were humpbacks everywhere. Aside from the slight injuries I sustained being elbowed by other tourists, it was awesome.

Of course Adam had his own odd way of whale-watching, which consisted of sitting on the boat with his eyes closed for three hours. Whenever I asked him something (“Don’t you want to see the whales?”  “Don’t you want some water?” “Don’t you want to elbow a tourist?”) he’d shake his head briskly, wide awake. When I asked him what he was doing, he said he was “feeling ALL the sea animals.” As one does.

This illustrates a paradox I’ve noticed this month: Sitting still is incredibly powerful. Recently I’d been hankering to meditate more, and I can’t sustain a good hanker, so I started sitting more often, and for longer time periods, than ever before. This has had a weird result. Slowing down has caused everything I do to happen faster.

Every day, after meditating for an hour and a half, I get up and observe my body as it does chores. Then I watch my brain and body together writing, teaching, or answering email. I don’t feel as if I’m doing it, and it happens bizarrely fast.  All my life I’ve felt rushed, but the more of nothing I do, the more I seem to feel my way through the ocean of tasks we all face.

This month, especially if you have a lot to do, try doing more of nothing. If you don’t meditate at all, try 10 minutes a day. If you do meditate, double your time. Then notice the velocity at which things get done. If you don’t notice an improvement in a week, quit. But give it an honest try.

Lao Tzu says, “When nothing is done, nothing is left undone.” I’m finding this to be almost magically true. 

Do it—that is, don’t do it—and see for yourself.

A Resting Revolution: Insight from Martha

Resting CatSo, as you know, if you’ve been following my writing and coaching, I’m heavily into helping people reclaim their “true nature.” It is what I’ve always done, but with a new sense of purpose and urgency as change begins to make our habitual ways of behaving obsolete and counterproductive. I frequently review a list of “brain rules” created by Dr. John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist who specializes in understanding the brain. Medina’s first brain rule is that we learn best outside. Another is that since every brain is wired differently, we should follow our own impulses rather than adhering to rigid external rules. But I think my favorite brain rule is rule number seven. Four words: “Sleep well, think well.”
 
It seems reasonable to suppose that as humans evolved, tribes or bands of people were safe if not everyone slept at the same time. “Night owls” like me could tend the fires and watch for predators at night. By the time we hit the hay, the tribe’s “morning people” would be alert and standing guard. That’s the only explanation I have for the fact that I—and all my blood relations including my children—simply cannot fall asleep early or bounce out of bed at sunrise feeling like a million bucks. By contrast, my partner Karen apologizes each night at 8:30 when she becomes completely unable to function. “I just need to close my eyes for a minute,” she’ll say, and then drop into a sleep so profound we have literally thrown parties without waking her up. Early morning, Karen turns into the US Army. She moves so fast and gets so much done that my groggy eyes cannot follow the motions. 
 
In the world that is becoming, as our society undergoes rapid change, we must return to our true nature in terms of how we rest and relax as well as in terms of how we work and play. Our “normal” terms of sleeping and waking were created so that factory workers could all show up at the assembly line at the same moment. School started in the pre-dawn hours for adolescents so they could be home to help with chores on the farm during most of the day. (Schools also give summer vacations because the summer months required children to stay on the farm to help during the most active part of the crop cycle.) There is no reason to continue scheduling our activities based on a model from the 19th century. We don’t work effectively when we are on a schedule that isn’t natural for our own individual bodies. Studies have shown that adolescents desperately need to sleep late in the morning and that forcing them to show up in class at pre-dawn hours can cause everything from emotional volatility to traffic accidents. 
 
So forget the Industrial Revolution. Let’s foment the Resting Revolution. If you want a nap right now, the most intelligent thing you can do is take it. If you want to perform well, sleep until your body wakes up on its own. If you have small children and you are severely sleep deprived, know that finding a way—any way—to get sleep is the only way to give children a healthy, cheerful, available parent.
 
I know this is asking a lot. But any way you slice it, today’s world is going to ask for everything you can give. Make your first priority your own well-being if only to serve the greater good. I would say more about this, but I really need a nap.