I’m a person who lives by her “to do” list – daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. I’m also a great one for wanting to plan ahead – you know, to avoid the last-minute drama that erupts from procrastination. Yet for all my planning and preparation, one thing seems to continually escape me: time.
It’s not that I miss meetings or that I’m late for appointments – my skillful planning takes care of all that. It’s the seasonal things that I seem to miss. The last time I looked up from my computer it was the New Year. We had just completed all the fall and winter festivities, concluding with the big Christmas crescendo. Now I look up and it’s summer! And before I know it, I’ll glance up again and the blur of Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hannukah/New Year will arrive once more. It’s not that I dislike the holidays; on the contrary, I actually look forward to them. But it seems that each of them whizzes by me before I even realize they’re here.
So this summer, I’ve decided to embrace the season. I’m making a conscious effort to savor the long, lazy days of what the Italians call Dolce Far Niente – the sweetness of doing nothing — wait – what – me doing nothing? Well, almost.
Niente, I have learned is an active nothing. It’s not a passive pass at doing zilch, it is not helplessness; rather it is a potent gesture that is active and meaningful. This sounds less indulgent to me, and, dare I say it, somewhat do-able.
The Chinese have a similar phrase Wei Wu Wei, which translates into action through inaction and originates from Lao Tzu’s classic book, Tao Te Ching. Wei Wu Wei more accurately implies natural action – action that does not engage struggle or excessive energy.
Yet, in our multi-tasking, activity-driven society, this is not easily achieved. The mind wants to be doing something all the time. I know mine does – it’s typing up a project, checking emails and thinking of dinner simultaneously at this very moment.
Exactly how does one achieve doing non-doing? And what are the benefits?
Doing Non-Doing is Powerful
Wei Wu Wei refers to action non-action for things unnecessary. Let’s take a look at a couple of examples.
Say you want to grow a plant. Start with some seeds, cover it with nourishing soil, water it, give it sunlight and fertilizer. Once that is completed, begin the non-doing by leaving the plant alone and let it grow on its own.
The seedlings need time and space to grow. You cannot dig the seed up every day to see if it is sprouting – that would most certainly, if not entirely, impede its growth! So you can see how in this instance, doing nothing is doing something.
Here’s another example: riding a bike. You peddle to move the bicycle forward, find your balance, and sit while the bicycle moves on with its momentum. You do nothing, and yet move ahead effortlessly.
Athletes, dancers and artists talk of following their flow, (link is external)the mental state of being completely present and fully immersed in an undertaking. When in flow, the creator and the universe become one, external distractions retreat from awareness, and one’s mind is fully open and attuned to the present act. This is Wei Wu Wei, or doing non-doing. Flow is vital to creativity and well-being across many areas — from sports to music to spirituality and sex.
Just imagine how much more powerful we can be, if we can focus in such manner.
I’m going to try my own experiment and follow this summer’s invitation to practice Dolce Far Niente and Wei Wu Wei. And if anyone wants to join me, please do, and feel free to share your experiences here with us.