Doing Nothing

Doing Nothing: The Most Productive Activity You Will Ever Undertake

The premise of The Joy Diet by Martha Beck is that “doing nothing is the most productive activity you will ever undertake.” By doing nothing, she means literally doing nothing.

  • This is not prayer (at least not in the sense of talking to God).
  • It is not problem-solving.
  • It is not planning.

Doing nothing is being still, quieting your mind (and the cacophony of voices), and simply being.

All the ancient wisdom literature points to the importance of this practice. Psalm 46:10 is representative: “Be still and know that I am God.”

This is tremendously difficult in our media-rich, always-on, over-communicated society. Noise crowds into every empty space, leaving us spiritually, mentally, and emotionally exhausted.

Mother Teresa expressed it this way, “We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon, and the sun, how they move in silence. . . . We need silence to be able to touch souls.”

Abba Poeman, one of the ancient desert fathers, taught his disciples, “If you are silent, you will have peace wherever you live.”

Here are a few suggestions from Beck on how you can practice stillness in your own journey and reclaim some interior margin.

  1. Try to do it first thing in the morning before anything else (even coffee).
  2. Go somewhere where you can be alone with no distractions.
  3. Start with a few minutes and try to work up to 15 minutes.
  4. Try a soft chair with your eyes closed. Or you can do mindless repetitive movement like rocking or watching a flame or running water.
  5. Beck offers several techniques for practicing “nonjudgmental observation,” a discipline that keeps your allotted time from being hijacked by an overly active mind.
  6. Don’t regret or celebrate the past. Don’t worry or dream about the future. Instead, collect your thoughts and be present—in this moment. It is the most important time you have. In fact, it is the only time you have.

Perhaps the most important thing is just to start. It’s easy to blow the discipline of stillness off as something you don’t have time for. Don’t. The busier you are the more important it is.

You need this in your life more than you know. Even if you can only set aside five minutes a day, do it. And if you miss a day or two, don’t beat yourself up. Just start again. You can do this, and you’ll be glad you did.


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