Stillness (the virtues of having nothing to do)

When I was 16 or 17 I bought a book called “Being Nobody, Going Nowhere: Meditations on the Buddhist Path.” It was my introduction to Buddhism and I’ve been pretty hooked since then. I’ve read a lot more about it over the years, attended a lecture by HH Dalai Lama, and have fallen in love with the Dharma. In more recent years I’ve had a strong affinity towards the various schools of Zen. Zen is about realization of your true self by peeling back the layers of reality in the stillness of your mind.

I’ve been able to peel away the layers like dead skin through deep introspection of who I am only to find out that what is important is who WE are. Because my experience is something shared, I am only a small fraction of it. It’s like we’re all in a dream and we have no idea who is dreaming it. Our roles are characters being played out before our eyes and where the story goes is partially up to us.


My favorite movie is waking life.

The title of that book always stuck in my head. The idea of going nowhere and being nobody seemed liberating. It gave me something to strive for. To be free from any obligations and have nothing to do. It has become a value of mine and has carried with me for a long time. My decisions revolve around the idea of keeping that value strong.

In the past 100 years we’ve automated every aspect of meeting our basic needs by colonizing and globalizing. I think that now we should have an abundance of free time to do as we please. Yet, our lives our structured in a way that leaves us “too busy” to do it. Too busy to read a book, take a trip, see a loved one, take a chance, go for a walk, or do something crazy.


A busy street in Merida Mexico.

Why are we so busy?

I think back for my entire life for as long as I can remember and I’ve always had something I needed to do. From the age of 5 years old I was in school being psychologically and mentally trained for my 40-hour work week in life. I looked forward to the future when summer vacation was coming up and just while I was enjoying it, I’d start dreading the upcoming start of the school year. Then back to my grind that just seemed to get in the way of everything I really wanted to do.

When we can get a job we do. And, as we see that carrot hanging at the end of the stick we run faster and work harder. The money lets us upgrade our life situation and makes us feel like the carrot is getting closer but will forever be out of reach. The American Dream has told me that after I do this for 30 years, I might finally be able to retire from chasing the carrot. I’ll be rewarded for my effort with a pension and told that for my service I am free to do whatever I please.

Fuck you, school!

An abandoned school in Detroit.

How intermittent retirement brought me stillness.

When I was 23 years old I decided I wanted to spend my 20’s in a semi state of retirement. During these years I would focus on experiencing things that would carry with me through life. I would learn skills, see the world, and discover who I was through deep introspection.

This introspection could only be found in the vacuum of nothingness. Through meditation I was able to shut out that voice that was telling me what I needed, and I discovered what I truly needed. In the far reaches of the silence of my mind I discovered my true self complete and whole as the day I came into the world. I needed little else other than that feeling.

Why aren’t more people feeling complete and whole?

I’ve noticed with quite a few people I’ve talked about this with it seems that many people feel guilty about doing nothing. There is even social stigma about being lazy. This down time is absolutely essential for me because it grounds me. Otherwise I get too wrapped up into it all and can’t focus on the right things. The practice started through meditating on stillness for 15 minutes a day, but now I set aside months at a time that are free of obligations so I can experience long term stillness.

The stillness of a thunderstorm.

The stillness in a thunderstorm.

I find that the more obligations I have, the stronger my identity becomes. I get attached to an imaginary future self that is doing all of these things in my head. I feel like I’m supposed to imitate them perfectly. If I do it wrong, and things don’t turn out how I imagine them, it causes suffering. This disconnects me from my true self so I try to avoid it. Instead I’d rather have nothing to do and focus on ways to keep myself present in the moment.

Having nothing to do has brought me closer to living within the stillness between a breath and a heartbeat. Where everything external is calm, and within myself I am calm. It’s like being within the womb of creation where no inclination of pain or suffering has or will ever exist.  Where you are free to exist exactly how you do right now and still be loved without judgement.

How do you feel about doing nothing?  Are you someone that values mental retreats from life, or do you feel guilty and unproductive if you’re sitting still?  Leave a comment and lets get a discussion going. Or do something!  Like share this post with your friends!