Practice the art of doing nothing to nurture inner peace

It’s the ability to sit, listen to the sounds of nature, look at nothing in particular, and just be.

Joan feels like she’s running all day, every day — taking care of her 6-year-old, doing laundry, cooking, cleaning the kitchen, supervising schoolwork during school-at-home, with a never ending to-do list that stretches out as far as the eye can see. “I’m always doing something,” she sighs.

Sound familiar?

With many parents working from home and fewer opportunities to go out, our homes are needing and getting more attention. It’s amazing to me how many dishes can pile up during a work day! Our living spaces are way more lived-in than ever.

Of course, it feels good to cross tasks off of our to-do list. And despite all of our modern, supposed time-saving tools, we all seem to have more to do than time to do it in. The result of this constant on-the-go life is stress and, at times, bone weariness.

So what skill do we need to nurture inner peace? How can we restore our energy?

It’s the art of doing nothing.

It’s the ability to sit, listen to the sounds of nature, look at nothing in particular, and just be. In that moment, we become aware of bird song, the wind whistling through the trees, the sounds of cars or simply silence. We notice our bodies —sensations from our muscles, skin and even our internal organs. We may notice the rhythm of breath, like the ocean, moving in and out against the shores of our chest. We become aware of our thoughts, moving across our minds, like clouds in the sky. We may start to follow a train of thought — trying to find a destination for our plans or our ideas.

We’re not looking at our cellphones, texting our friends, flipping through Instagram, reading work email or gobbling down lunch. We’re not watching a movie, the news or channel surfing. We’re not refining our to-do or shopping list. We’re not chatting with a friend, reading a magazine or a newspaper. We’re not drinking a latte. We’re not exercising, running or bike riding.

We’re not distracting ourselves. We’re simply and completely doing nothing.

I remember as a child, lying in my back yard, staring up at the sky on a summer day, very much like today — watching the clouds move across the heavens. Time slowed down, and it seemed like each moment lasted forever. I wasn’t thinking about what I had just done or what I would be doing later. I wasn’t planning, listing or solving. The sky, the grass, the wind, the Earth and I were one. We were all at rest.

Give it a go. Take 15 minutes — set your timer if you must — and simply sit and do nothing. Or even better, lie on a grassy field and watch the clouds move across the sky, recalling from childhood how to simply be.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog is at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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