As I was looking into existing articles about “The Art of Doing Nothing, ” I came across two phrases how they described it in Italy and in India.
The Italians call it “La Dolce Far Niente” which means “the sweetness of doing nothing.” And it was a concept one author learned while watching Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love. The scene was set in a barbershop in Rome. Julia and her newfound friend are scarfing down napoleons while the men of Italy are educating them on the ways of the Italian.
One of the male characters begins his diatribe about how the Americans’ idea of relaxing is working themselves to the bone all week just so they can lay around in their pajamas on weekends, drink six-packs of Miller Light, and watch other people live their lives on TV. He then presents to the audience the concept of la dolce far niente, or the sweetness of doing nothing.
The character goes on to explain that Italians may wander home after a few hours of working to take a nap, they may be inspired by a nearby cafe and sit down to have a glass of wine, they may go home and make love to their wife. And that scene was still compelling. As far as that author was concerned.
Another author mentioned that in her country in India they have a version for this called “Shunya.” It is a literal translation that means “zero” but in essence, it means “nothingness.”
While I have something to say about how my experience of Europe and Rome was, let us park that thought for a moment and allow me to take you to this island in Southeast Asia I call home. Mabuhay and welcome to the Philippines.
You may have read somewhere that the Philippines is composed of some 7,000 plus islands, the numbers depending on whether our seas are experiencing low tide or high tide.
The Art of Doing Nothing
The first time I encountered “The Art of Doing Nothing” was through a coffee table book found lying around Sonya’s Garden. Sonya’s Garden is located in Alfonso, Cavite and was originally a bed and breakfast place. In order to get there, you pass by this volcano sitting inside a lake and another volcano called Taal Volcano. Sonya’s Garden also serves as a wedding place and a retreat place where they offer meditation, yoga, and other restful activities for the busy Filipino (particularly the busy Manila dweller which was what I also was at that time). The year was 2010.
I was there with colleagues, we had a weekend outing slash planning for our small tech startup company. They were mostly friends who are board of directors of the company and I was the president. It was our first time to see profits in our little company and we were all very happy. I was running the company for six to seven years then and felt it to be a celebratory event. I just finished a life coaching program and was all about creating a strong vision for the company.
My thoughts were racing to… “Where do we take this next, a vision will drive us there. Now that we have a greater reach in the Philippines, how about the world.” But, my major board members, on the other hand, was more concerned about systems inside the company, how we can clean up the records and how can divide the profits while the company is still earning. We have two opposing points of view, mine was as my friends would call it “too pure” and theirs was more practical. Neither was right or wrong, it was just what it was back then.
Seeing that coffee table book about “The Art of Doing Nothing” did not make any sense to me.
My thoughts were racing for a vision so I can take the company somewhere while the technology we were offering was something of value. My mind was all about what to do next.
That happened ten years ago and that book was imprinted on my mind up to now. We closed that company some four years ago. My board members were contented with the results. It was a good thirteen-year run for me. But I know it was bittersweet for me thinking maybe there was something I could have done better. Wondering where that better is. Looking at it back then, it was just is. There were things I didn’t know and had to learn to get me to the version of the now that I have.
For two or three years, I was doing what I would call “odd jobs.” Because it was too painful to go back to startups and anything related to going digital or technology. Even if startup and trying out new things have been part of what I have been involved with for the past twenty or so years.
Read: Have you Hit the Wall of Freelance Writer Burnout? How to Deal with It
I was tired of goals and going after it and then creating more goals. I was tired of running after dreams. Chasing after dreams is just too tiring. Instead of “Being,” it just feels like “Doing” is the easier alternative. I felt like I was being reduced to a “Human Doing” rather than a “Human Being.” And beingness I told myself back then was something I cannot afford because it does not pay the bills. “I have no time for this,” said the person who no longer dreams or longs for something thinking that she already fulfilled a dream that she had in her twenties.
For two or three years, I just did not know where I was going or what I was doing. What I had was a feeling of what I think I want to go to but it felt like it does not exist yet. Where the eff in the world do you find it? It’s not like you can buy inspiration packed as a Buy One, Take One in a grocery or a supermarket.
Something memorable came to me in March 2017, after a seminar called 8th Intensive. To briefly describe that seminar… they talk and do concepts like Ikegai, movement, meditation, to briefly skim over 3 days of activities done over a weekend. While everybody had this life-changing discovery, I, on the other hand, just didn’t want to move. I was still participating but I did not want to move.
It was after that weekend that out of nowhere an Abraham Hicks link popped out on my YouTube recommendations. I can talk about who Esther Hicks and Abraham in detail later on, maybe. I remember this event clearly because all I watched on YouTube at that time were clips about K-Drama and K-Pop idols. What struck me out of listening to all these random Abraham Hicks upload every night before going to sleep was that part how Esther Hicks would take some 15 to 20-minutes in what she calls “meditation” – just closing her eyes and listening to the sound of an air conditioner. Then she talks about how it raises the frequency and be in vibrational alignment.
She does not make sense if you listen to her. If, after this, you go to YouTube and you listen to her and do not resonate with what she is saying, I would understand. I just wanted to mention where I got that “15 to 20-minutes” of listening to background noise (air conditioner in her case, electric fan sounds or the outside traffic, in my case) is the most “Doing Nothing” I did in the forty-three years I am on earth. And I started doing it in 2017.
This is how I do “Doing Nothing.” It is a slight variation from the Esther Hicks version but it still has that 15 minutes of sitting or lying in a comfortable position, closing your eyes and doing nothing. There are days when it feels really peaceful. And there will be days when your internal mental chatter would keep on talking incessantly.
I use an app called “Meditation Timer.” There’s nothing more soothing as a Tibetan bowl that rings every time “the time is up.” It is my own need because blaring ringtones are close to giving me a heart attack.
I set it to 30 seconds preparation time.
15 minutes of meditation time.
And then a 1 minute after meditation lingering around after meditating time. I do this every morning upon waking up.
I have programmed the Meditation timer app to ring every 5 minutes and do one yin yoga pose for every 5 minutes. These poses are:
Savasana (just lying down)
Sphinx (lying on your stomach with your chest and head up)
Butterfly (legs folded in butterfly position as you move your chest and head towards your feet).
In the span of 15 minutes, I listen to my mental chatter or I just savor the sounds and the darkness.
After the meditation, sometimes I jump out of bed and get on with my day. Sometimes I stay in bed and get back to sleep. Sometimes I write some 3-pages of whatever comes up on a journal (it can be feelings, it can be thoughts, it can be ideas. Anything goes).
For those who have no background in meditation and are beginners to this thought, you can reduce your meditation time to 2 to 5 minutes on your first week. And then gradually increase in the next weeks or months as you get into the habit. Another app I can suggest and I found useful when I was just beginning with mediation was Headspace.
Fast forward to May 7, 2020 … I am just starting with freelance writing and I have been in quarantine in Manila since March 15. I started the day with the 15-minute meditation or “my time to do nothing.”
It was just darkness. I did not want to jump out of bed today. A part of me was saying I should be “writing professionally” but I know I will be sharing something deeply personal.
I do not want to share the personal stuff. It is too painful. I can get defensive and I might defend myself to death while writing because I do not want to go back to that part of my life where I felt I was a failure. Then a little voice just said “But what if somebody is going through something and needed to hear this right now. Would you deprive them of this message?”
And so here I am.
I know there are a lot of write-ups and articles out there telling you why it is a good idea to meditate. All I can say is “Just try.”
Meditation for me is about listening to that tiny voice that gets drowned out in the “shoulds.” It is in that clarity of what the fear is about. It is also in the getting to a place of silence and getting in touch with a Self that is true to me and unique only to me. Just like you have a Self that is also true to you and unique only to you. A place devoid of belief systems and popular world views.
I would say that getting into the habit of “doing nothing” is not something you “should” do. It is something you can explore and try out for yourself. What I have shared is something that works for me. There are tons of information out there. You can try what I do or try out some other method or technique. I would recommend that you go explore and find out what works for you. I do not profess to be someone who knows everything.
If this piece of writing sparked a certain something in you, please feel free to comment. Let this be a space of sharing and learning as we allow ourselves to connect to our own light.
And with that, I end with… The teacher in me honors the teacher in you. The light in me honors the light in you. There is great love here and for now… Namaste.
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