How to “Do” Nothing

One of the most remarkable things I’ve found is the tremendous insight that comes from doing nothing. That sounds strange, and it is. But I think there is truth in it.

One of the most remarkable things I’ve found is the tremendous insight that comes from doing nothing. That sounds strange, and it is. But I think there is truth in it.

How could we have insights from doing nothing? I think it is a matter of getting out of our own way. Our mind is constantly chattering, going this way and that way, thinking it knows best, that it’s in charge of things. If we can stop for a moment, marvelous things start to happen. But we can’t stop it intentionally. The mind can’t stop the mind; the ego can’t stop the ego. This is why it can seem so hard.

The ironic and paradoxical question becomes: how do I do nothing? If we are thinking that way, that I have to “do” something to do nothing, then I think we might fail. For in trying to do nothing, we are doing. No. We just stop. We allow ourselves to stop. I think this is where true meditation and contemplation become so powerful. It is not that we are trying to meditate, trying hard to concentrate, to focus, to keep attention on the breath, and block out all thoughts. If we do that, I think we may not see many benefits. The ego is trying to “do” meditation. It is much more that we allow our minds to relax, to soften, to fall away to quietude and silence. It is more of an allowing than a trying, a surrendering rather than a mission or goal that we must intentionally fulfill.

I think this is why in some schools of Zen they say that you can’t “do” anything to meditate or to become enlightened, which sounds completely silly to most people. If I can’t do anything to meditate or find enlightenment, then I guess I’ll go on my way. Nothing here to “do.” I think the Christian idea of grace comes into play here in a very similar way. We can’t “work” our way to heaven; it comes as a gift, unbidden, undesired, unworked towards. But then other Christians come along and complain, “well if I can’t do anything then, then what do I ‘do’ to find God?” Again, it is a paradox. We are always looking to do, to learn the truth, to find God. I think the trick might be to stop doing, stop trying, to surrender the crusade, and allow God to find us.

I think meditation, contemplation, silent prayer, is not something that we “do,” per se. It is something that we undo. We stop doing. It is an attitude of being, in allowing, in becoming open, in relaxing the mind, in surrendering to the present moment, becoming aware of what is, to the current reality of what is and nothing more. Some call this mindfulness. When we notice the mind wander off into mundane thoughts, we simply and gently acknowledge that this has happened, and we bring our awareness back to the breath. And we repeat this, until the mind becomes very relaxed, gentle, soft, clear, clean. This, I think, is what the scriptures are referring to when they speak of purification and sanctification. It is a purifying of our mind, cleansing the mind of all the thoughts that normally clog it up. When we can so purify our mind, then we can see and witness our spirit, our soul, the life-giving essence that is our basic being. It is putting off the natural man, and seeing the Saint that we are (Mosiah 3:19).

Again, this is when remarkable ineffable things start to happen. Insights begin to appear in the mind of their own accord, not necessarily as thoughts, but as understandings, as knowings. We weren’t looking for them. We weren’t trying to “think” them, or find them in our mind somewhere. We weren’t “creating” them by organizing thoughts in novel or unique ways. They simply enter into consciousness. This is the definition of insight, epiphany, revelation, the whisperings of the spirit, the parousia, illumination, enlightenment, awakening, realization, discovery. It is unbidden. It comes from deeper subconscious or unconscious realms of the mind that we do not have conscious access to, what we might call the spiritual dimension, bubbling up into consciousness when consciousness is not preoccupied with a host of other thoughts to attend to. When consciousness is open and clear, it is a wonder what begins to appear there, the ideas and experiences that one begins to have. When we become silent, God can speak to us. What we really are at the most fundamental level of our existence suddenly and shockingly has a Voice, and it stuns us. We see the image of God engraved on our very own countenance, and this is perhaps the most astonishing thing we have ever witnessed in our lives (Alma 5:14, 19).

And not only insights, but deeply felt emotions, Gratitude, Peace, and Joy spring up from inside us. A tremendous sense of Love that fills the body to the brim, that runs from head to toes and back again. A feeling of energy and warmth and Light and Goodness that fills the entire body, that kisses our Spirit and Soul, and tears well up in our eyes from the immensity of this Simplicity, this Reality, this Amazing Grace, this marvelous ease of Life and Spirit that we feel gushing up inside of us. God touches our heart, and we are without words.

We don’t seek for it. We simply become still, and it finds us. It just appears. “Be still, and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

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