Doing Nothing

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.

16 replies
  1. Gail Harris
    Gail Harris says:

    Hi Martha, I’d like to add that the more that we can just “be” in the moment the more our life becomes like an ongoing play, continuously being written, directed, staged and produced by our very own best, most trusted friend, as we star or play in it. Who knows what will happen, but the synchrnonicities are always great, and even when it is hard, it it rich. Thanks for such a wonderful post.

  2. Leda Sammarco
    Leda Sammarco says:

    Great post, Martha. It’s so true that when you spend time within, everything goes better without. I’ve also found that when you do this, you are always right on schedule with the Universe – not too early or too late. I love the whale photo – watching or being in nature is always a great way to invoke that inner stillness.

  3. judy kaplowe
    judy kaplowe says:

    Miss Beck, I’ve listened to both your emotional pain and loss videos, and was struck by your intellect, of course, but your level of heart and sincerity is equally impressive and completely impacting.

    I read once, “Treat everyone you meet as if they have a broken heart.” Wish I could remember the author; despite my temper, I work toward this goal each day. I will share each of these videos with my nephew and some friends.

    Thank you for being a stand up gal, whose own heartache has been not for nothing.

    Judy Kaplowe

  4. Sarah
    Sarah says:

    Hi Martha, this is one of the best posts I have ever read. I also felt rushed and pressured, even though there was no emergency. I just started meditating recently. Hoping it will work. Thanks for your timely and relevant post.

  5. Keith
    Keith says:

    Hi Martha,

    Wow! An hour and a half a day is impressive. I have been doing 12-15 minutes for about the last month and a half and it definitely has made a difference.

    I will definitely be looking at doubling up after reading this.


  6. It's Finally Done!
    It's Finally Done! says:

    Wow – 1.5 hours of meditation a day! More power to you. I’ve tried meditating before but I always found it to be a watered down form of a nap. My feeling is – why not just cut to the chase and take the nap? 🙂 (My friends who meditate tell me I’ve got it all wrong and I’m open to that.)

    That said, I totally agree that downtime is an important, increasingly neglected part of one’s day. Our iPods, iPads, smartphones, etc. are robbing us more and more of that precious gift.

  7. Carl
    Carl says:

    There always seems synchronicity where you’re involved. Just this morning I read the Lao Tzu quote in your book. But couldn’t really understand it rationally. Thanks for what you do, so well.

  8. Caryl
    Caryl says:

    Hi Martha ,
    This is such an insightful post! Impressive meditation practice….am going to strve for this!
    Mostly was looking to comment on videos! Adam dancing..what more is there to say?!
    Look forward to posts, blogs and of course your books which I find are the best gifts you could give!
    Thank you!!!!

  9. Sherry
    Sherry says:

    Just BEing as we witness in a small child is total connectedness to Source of everything. When I’m DOing I am disconnected & forcing life & I feel the wrongness. BEing allows a peaceful flowing even if what is manifesting doesn’t seem right. There is a deep knowing everything happening is moving me along to my deepest desires. There is no worry or fear; just a powerful knowing.

  10. isabel Wood
    isabel Wood says:

    i am finding this is true for me, everything happens in the right way at the right time, it’s wonderful. thank you for all your superb insights Martha, which i have found at the perfect time for me.

  11. kdmi
    kdmi says:

    This is a funny response to calling in the wild for me, Martha.

    Yesterday, for the first time ever, I checked out the live youtube channel of the Hawaii Humpback Whale Sanctuary in Maui. A camera focuses 24/7 on the waters where the humpbacks have their mating rituals & this is the season for their beautiful dance.

    While I worked all day online, I'd switch screens periodically just to stare at the gorgeous tropical scene thousands of miles from where I'm living in the cold, gray north. But I wasn't seeing any sign of whale activity.

    Late that evening, I remembered something you wrote about how, when focusing on wanting to see something happen, drop down into wordlessness & the everywhen, focus, and then let go. So I gave it a try, and said to myself, if I'm supposed to see the whales I will. It was then getting dark in Hawaii, so I shut off the whale watching screen and went to bed.

    This morning I woke up and I saw humpback whales — in the photo with this column post and your reference to seeing them with Karen & Adam! It wasn't quite the whale visit I expected but I think that's pretty cool. I'm reading your posts nearly every day, and this one connected at just the right moment for me to see the whales I'd called in — and to take note of the point you make about the value of doing nothing.

    I'd recently broken my ankle so I've been doing more of nothing than usual, and feeling guilty. The world adores a busy person! — or so it seems, until I question that thought. Then I see how being busy is attached to thoughts about my self worth; if I'm busy, I'm worthy. If not, then my thoughts call me a lot of names, none of them nice.

    So me & doing nothing are getting better acquainted, on more peaceful terms. And that gives me a chance to pull up the live youtube scene in Maui, listen to the waves, and allow for whatever wants to happen to happen.

    As always, thank you for being with me, with us, in the everywhen …


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  1. Just Breathe | A Delectable Life says:

    […] And listen to Martha Beck! She suggests we need to do a little more nothing! […]

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