Doing Nothing

I was born with a special skill which is the ability to do nothing at any time and any place. I've been doing this a large part of my life, so I'm a bit of an expert. Some would call it meditation. I think of it as day dreaming, just sitting and thinking with no one around, letting my mind wander wherever it wants to go. Day dreaming fuels plans and hopes and dreams and give us the direction we want to live our lives. It’s great for writing. It's the natural tendency of the mind to wander, but the way we live these days isn't conducive to down time. We don't value it or even tolerate it. It’s shameful to do nothing. And we have the internet to constantly divert us and keep us occupied.

Most Americans love the idea of doing nothing. As an abstract concept everyone is pretty much on board. But it's definitely a skill we’ve lost. Learning to relax and do nothing will actually increase your productivity, make your mind more focused, and foster creativity. And it will make you happier, which is kind of the point.

I live in Bhutan and we don’t do busy like we do in the West. After over 20 years living here, I'm still trying to figure out what makes the pace so different. Genetics? Thin mountain air? Certainly it is the isolation. Surrounded by the Himalayas, Bhutan is landlocked between Chinese Tibet to the north and India to the south, west, and east. Even now, not a lot comes in or goes out of the country.

Bureaucracy is slow. There's no such thing as fast food. It's an exercise in futility to try to rush at the bank. Nobody really gets upset if you're late somewhere.

The other day I did a little math and since we measure speed using kilometers here and I haven’t really been paying attention, I finally figured out that going 40 kilometers per hour is only 25 MILES PER HOUR. All this time I’ve been thinking I’ve been flying around these mountain roads, cruising through town in Thimphu, but nope. I have just been poking around the place. Even in town we go about 30 kilometers or less. It’s like driving bumper cars at the state fair. All the roads are narrow and winding so no need to post speed limits. Speed is self regulating. If you go too fast you'll miss a turn and end up 30 feel below the road surrounded by what's left of your vehicle. Slow is a good thing.

Living in Bhutan helps me reconnect with my tendency to day dream, and I block out time to do nothing. And so I schedule it.

You're probably a lot busier than me, but you can learn to block out little bits of time for yourself, even if you’re out of practice. Here's how to teach yourself to daydream:

1. Turn off all devices. This might take you a while to pull off. But it's compulsory and you will be glad you did it. No television, no phone, no texting, no tablets, no computer, no books, no food, no talking. This will make you uncomfortable at first, even anxious. Do it for a minute. You can do it for a minute. Then do it for two minutes.

2. Find a comfortable, inviting place to sit, preferably some place where you can look at something beautiful. I recommend being somewhere high up, like the top floor of a building, or on the side of a mountain, or somewhere lofty where you can look down on the world, or a small part of it. It’s best to be in nature, a park, or a place where you can look at trees, mountains, or water. If you can't find a private place, go and sit in your car.

3. Just sit. Every cell in your body will want you to get up and you'll feel like you need to do something. Resist the urge.

5. Keep practicing. Like any other habit it takes time. If you can’t bear to just sit and do nothing, then knit, sew, do something with your hands.