When I taught on New Year’s Day morning, I was happy to see my regular Monday morning crowd. I am not a rah-rah kick butt yoga teacher, and if you come to my class regularly, you probably know this about me. I just couldn’t get fired up about inspiring my class to do more for the New Year. I was grateful that the people who showed up know me and my teaching, and weren’t expecting something that just isn’t me.
Instead, we moved through a gentle and fluid yoga practice, and I spoke about non-doing, something that is inherent in meditation and mindfulness practice.
Non-doing might not seem like the obvious choice of theme for a yoga practice to kick off the year. You would think we would focus on something a little more active, something a bit more goal oriented or ambitious.
But don’t we have enough of that all year round? In my view, all that goal setting and focus on self-improvement seems to have a “not good enough” ring to it. We take on ‘improving” what we most dislike about ourselves, what we feel is not good enough – whether it is our belly or our impatience or our extra glass of wine at night.
So my New Year’s Resolution is…nothing. Do more of nothing. That might be formally – as in, attending to my daily meditation practice, and it might be informally – letting myself occasionally sit around and just be rather than immediately filling up the space with doings. Yes, my goal for this year is more of nothing.
Now, you might hear “non-doing” and say to yourself, “but don’t you know, there is so much to…do?!”
Yes, I hear that voice too. It is a persistent visitor. For me, the action of non-action, is a radical act. It is a stepping out of the habitual way we mostly move through life. And it is the work of a lifetime.
“The flavor and the sheer joy of non-doing are difficult for Americans to grasp because our culture places so much value on doing and on progress. Even our leisure tends to be busy and mindless. The joy of non-doing is that nothing else needs to happen for this moment to be complete.”
Even with all the meditation I do and the mindfulness I study, I am not all that good at letting go of doing. Ironically, it takes some effort to let go of habitually filling our moments and let ourselves be in a space of non-doing. It is an act of letting go of control and letting things unfold. It is finding a moment to pause and be present to the feeling of your breath and experiencing your internal landscape without having to do anything about it.
Non-doing is not exactly doing nothing. Most of us are pretty good at doing nothing – in other words, checking out. Netflix binge, anyone? Instead, non-doing is intentional and conscious. It is being fully present rather than mindless.
When we take time for non-doing, we cultivate an ability in ourselves to be present in our daily activities as well. We train our minds to hold what we are doing with a state of awareness. Some might call action where we are fully present flow. Think of watching a great athlete, or an artist at work, or perhaps moments where you have noticed yourself flowing in an activity you are particularly engaged in.
Paradoxically, studies show that taking time for non-doing helps us to be more creative and productive. When I have writers block or am stuck on a project, taking time for a non-doing break (a mindful walk, a short meditation, or some mindful yoga) usually gets the creative juices flowing once again.
And the best benefit? When I take conscious time for non-doing, I am happier. I am more present with my children and at work, and there is more ease and fluidity to my day. I am more patient and more compassionate toward myself and others.
You might have a list of New Year’s commitments, and that is great. I invite you to add one more – nothing.
I hope to see you for practice soon, where we can practice letting go of doing and take time for being…
Happy New Year!