In this series of exploring the unlimited and individual ways we can reset and resource – perhaps one of the most difficult is to do nothing.
It seems like we will do anything to do something, rather than do nothing. Often driven by a desire to curb a stirring anxiety in order to feel safe, worthy or connected, and under the illusion that if we do something it will make things better, we take action – we move, we speak, we consume, we decide, we social media, we call that meeting, send that email…we do anything.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who has been fundamental in bringing mindfulness to the West so beautifully plays on a familiar action slogan, to say “don’t just do something, sit there”.
It seems that sooner or later, even if we are forced to do nothing through illness or the like, we learn that we need to learn to stop and sit with what is. Like the meditation retreats I go on where the primary instruction is ‘do nothing – perfectly’, it takes some doing. Your mind starts wandering, flicking between ruminating on the past or speculating about the future. Rather than staying aware with non-judgement, you find yourself evaluating and assessing each sensation – like, don’t like, hate. You grasp onto thoughts as if they were the fixed truth – your mind rushing from one to the next, trying to solve problems.
You don’t have to sit on a meditation cushion to know this feeling. And you don’t have to do meditation as a practice. It is learning to be present. To notice when an old fear or familiar trigger rises and choosing not to act on it but to observe it with self compassion. Especially those challenging times, when we are feeling stressed, wanting things to be a certain way or in the grip of something. If in those times, we can ‘do nothing – perfectly’, even for a split second, we can find new ways to reset and resource.
As a partner, as a friend, to ‘do nothing-perfectly’ can be the ultimate in acceptance. Other times it simply gives each other space, time and energy to gain perspective.
As a coach, to ‘do nothing- perfectly’ can be just the thing to create the necessary shift within the coaching relationship to help the coachee move deeper into self-awareness and resourcefulness.
As a leader, to learn to ‘do nothing – perfectly’ helps us to lead in this VUCA world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It may mean we get skilful at being utterly in the presence of our direct report, giving them our full attention. It may mean being more comfortable in encouraging silence as a collective, in a busy team meeting. It may be about being more courageous to stand back from your own agenda, to reconnect with a deeper wisdom.
Indeed, what relationship, leadership dilemma or political decision has not benefited from taking up Lao-Tzu’s challenge..
Do you have the patience to wait
Till your mud settles and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
Till the right action arises by itself?