I know what you may be thinking. Why on earth would I submit a post entitled “The Power of Doing Nothing” to a blog whose entire raison d’être is motivating its readers to act as they embark on their journey through retirement? Perhaps the best way to describe what I’m talking about was formulated by German social psychologist Erich Fromm in his classic work, “The Art of Loving.” He notes:
“Take for instance a man driven to incessant work by a sense of deep insecurity and loneliness; or another driven by ambition, or greed for money. In all these cases the person is the slave of a passion, and his activity is in reality a “passivity” because he is driven; he is the sufferer, not the “actor.” On the other hand, a man sitting quiet and contemplating, with no purpose or aim except that of experiencing himself and his oneness with the world is considered to be “passive,” because he is not “doing” anything. In reality, this attitude of concentrated meditation is the highest activity there is, an activity of the soul, which is possible only under the condition of inner freedom and independence.”
In our modern world, we value neurotic activity so much so that we don’t even consider if said activity is actually accomplishing anything for ourselves or for others. How many times have you frantically scrolled through your Twitter page, reading bits of information, clicking links, feeling as though you are doing something just because you’re engaging your hands and eyes?
Of course, in our quest to become experts on various subjects, setting goals and taking steps to achieve them is absolutely important. But sometimes both the body and mind need a breather. They both need to engage in the activity of doing nothing, of being comfortable merely existing. Some of you may formally meditate—which is an incredible skill in and of itself–but you don’t necessarily have to learn meditation in order to master the art of doing nothing productively. I personally don’t know the first thing about meditating, but, after several years of practice, I’ve been able to cultivate a contemplative state of mind. This state of mind enables you to stop, to take stock of your immediate surroundings, to carefully consider any action you take before taking it.
The power of doing nothing isn’t the same as the power of relaxation. Relaxing, of course, is helpful, but doing nothing productively entails constantly rethinking and revaluating your goals. It means finding motivation that comes from within. I’ve found that developing a contemplative mindset has helped me immensely in my quest to play the piano well, after years of watching my piano collect dust. Before, when I was younger, I took piano lessons so that I could impress my friends and family. I didn’t practice as much as I should have just because I hadn’t developed a love for it and for myself—my motivation was wholly external. Now, after practicing doing nothing, I can go to the piano and completely lose myself in hours of concentrated practice.
This contemplative state of mind is especially powerful for those of us who are now retired. Now, you may be seeking new activities and hobbies to fill your time. After a lifetime of constantly doing—whether you were working, parenting, or both—you now must adjust to a period of decreased activity that gives you the time to fulfill dreams you may have put off. Being comfortable doing nothing is the essential key to developing a mindset that’s conducive to learning.
A precursor for love of anything–whether it’s a hobby, an academic subject, a person, or your own self–is being able to approach your object of love in a calm and considered manner. And the key to finding this calm is doing nothing. Next time you have a few hours to spare, stop. Before doing anything, do nothing.
A lifelong conversationalist and born writer, it was only a matter of time before Maria Rainier became a full-time blogger. Now she spends her time blogging about trending higher education issues such as the online degrees vs traditional degrees question and the values of distance learning. Please share some comments with her.