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The Benefits of Doing Nothing

Dr. Lilian Cheung, The Huffington Post
October 8, 2011
The Huffington Post

 It's Sunday afternoon. You've enjoyed coffee with a loved-one, cleaned the living room, paid a few bills and are surfing the internet. A friend calls, "Hey, what are you up to?" You say, "Nothing much."

These activities may feel like nothing compared to your hectic work-week pace. But they call upon your mind, body and emotions, nonetheless. It's likely that even as you do these "nothing much" activities, you are mentally multitasking -- planning for the week ahead, analyzing last night's social event or daydreaming about a future vacation or your ideal job. Your attention is in demand, and very likely, divided.

What would it feel like to truly do nothing? What benefits could it bring you?

In Buddhism, the ideal person has nowhere to go and nothing to do. To achieve this state of freedom and serenity, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to cultivate aimlessness. In our productivity-obsessed society, we tend to devalue the practice of aimlessness. Often, it's such a low priority that we don't truly rest until we've burned out completely.

But is it really productive to run yourself down until your body and mind are so fatigued they refuse to work?

Without a practice of doing nothing, what quality of attention are you offering? Are you truly present, available to share all of your love, talents, clarity and good humor? When we are truly available, we do our best work, cultivating goodness within ourselves and the world. Dragging yourself along with an empty tank does not serve you, or anyone else, well. You need down time to refuel and refresh.

Keeping this in mind, schedule a time to practice aimlessness. A weekend afternoon may be the perfect opportunity. Since we don't often take time to do nothing, this practice may be difficult at first, but resist planning your lazy day -- simply let it unfold.