October 1, 2021

THE ART OF DOING NOTHING

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My friends, many of us come to meditation to learn how not to act out the habitual tendencies we generally live by; those actions that create suffering for ourselves and others. Doing nothing does not necessarily mean going to sleep, but it does mean resting — resting the mind by being present to whatever is happening in the moment, without adding on the effort of attempting to control it. Doing nothing means unplugging from the compulsion to always keep ourselves busy, the habit of shielding ourselves from certain feelings, the tension of trying to manipulate our experience before we even fully acknowledge what that experience is.

In our usual mind state, we are continually activating the process that in Buddhist terminology is known as “bhava,” which literally means “becoming.” In this space of becoming, we are subtly leaning forward into the future, trying to have security based on the feeling that we can hold on to and keep things from changing. We are continually out of balance in this state — in meditation we might notice that we even try to feel the next breath while the present one is still happening.

When we speak about letting go or unplugging, we are talking about dropping the burden of becoming and just returning our awareness to the natural center of our being, returning to a state of natural peace. The movement that is often helpful in meditation is to come back, to relax, to let go of leaning forward, to let go of grasping. We can relax even from the anticipation of our next breath. We settle back, return to the present, and return to ourselves. This is what we mean by doing nothing, or unplugging.

Meditation is not the construction of something foreign, it is not an effort to attain and then hold on to a particular experience. We may have a secret desire that through meditation we will accumulate a stockpile of magical experiences or that we will increase our value as human beings by a process of spiritual acquisition. Our typical consumer culture wants to view meditation as a social cachet: “People will surely notice that I’ve been transformed. Won't that will be awfully impressive!”

Letting go of this burdensome desire for acquisition and performance, we can just let the mind rest in ease as we learn to unplug. As Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche puts it, “Rest in natural great peace, this exhausted mind.” Then, rather than wasting our time, our learning to practice doing nothing can lead us into the deep and renewing rest of truly living.

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