I suck at nothing. Uh, I should rephrase that. I totally suck at doing Nothing. I’m really good at doing Something- usually multiple Somethings simultaneously. Such as tweeting on Twitter while watching my daughter bathe and running to the kitchen to stir up a batch of veggie chili. But just being still and present and content? I’m absolutely no good at that- at all.
In fact, I just flipped open a book by Martha Beck called The Joy Ride, while I was waiting on a patient at the Owning Pink Center. The book is about ten things you can do to make your life more joyful. And the first thing on the list is Nothing. I read two pages and shelved the book. I suck at Nothing! Why would I want to add Nothing to my endless to-do list? I’ve tried meditating, but even during corpse pose in yoga, when you’re supposed to have spent over an hour preparing your body for meditation, my brain is racing a bazillion miles per hour.
I’ve heard Jack Kornfield, the famous meditation teacher from Spirit Rock, speak about the challenges of doing Nothing. I like his style- he’s very gentle and forgiving and seems to understand those of us who don’t do Nothing well. When he coaches you to meditate, he invites you to name the thoughts that enter your brain. Such as “remembering” or “planning.” Trouble is, it seems I’m always either remembering or planning. Which doesn’t leave me much time to be in the present moment, which, he reminds us, is the only moment that actually exists RIGHT NOW. And I suppose that’s the point of why I might benefit from doing Nothing.
I hear you, universe. Really, I do. But I wasn’t in the mood to get yet another lecture about how I should be quiet and look for the still point in a turning world. So I slammed shut Martha Beck’s book, saw my patient, and headed off for a hike, to do Something. I drove to Muir Woods, donned my hiking boots, and loaded my Ipod into my fanny pack. It’s not enough for me to do just one Something (hiking). I have to do Something else (listen to my Pink Playlist). So I powered up the mountain, jamming to tunes with a skip in my step, but them BAM. My Ipod stopped playing right when it got to Britney Spears If You Seek Amy (love that song- it’s so naughty!). I shook the damn thing, banged on it a bit, tried turning it on and off, attempted to skip forward or back, but the friggin’ Ipod was jammed. It wouldn’t play or stop playing or switch playlists. It would do Nothing. After allowing my blood pressure to rise, exploding with a few expletives, and flushing with frustration, I finally stuffed my Ipod into my fanny pack and trudge forward, but the spring in my step disappeared. Now I’d have to get a new Ipod. And I’d have Nothing to do for the rest of my hour and a half hike.
I tried to make lemonade out of lemons. I would take Martha’s advice and try to do Nothing. I’d appreciate the beauty of the redwoods that towered over me. I’d take some deep breaths and try to clear my mind of clutter. When thoughts interrupted the stillness within me, I’d apply Jack’s advice- naming the thoughts “planning” or “remembering” and gently bringing my attention back to my breath. My legs were pumping up the hill, so I wasn’t exactly doing Nothing, but I’m sure I spent a whole three minutes almost meditating. I’d love to be able to report how the quiet time in my head brought me peace and the stillness opened up something previously untapped within me, but that would be a boldfaced lie. In truth, one thought that interrupted my meditation was how this tragic Ipod experience might turn into a blog post, and I spent the rest of the walk planning and writing in my head. So sue me. I told you I suck at Nothing!
When I finished my hike (and planned most of what you just read), I was unloading my fanny pack to put its contents into the car, when I noticed that, Lo and behold, my Ipod was jamming away back there in my fanny pack. What did I do to fix it? NOTHING. Somehow, left by itself in my fanny pack, it fixed itself. I had to laugh.
Maybe that’s what Martha Beck and Jack Kornfield and Jolie, my yoga teacher, and Jo Perron, my wise teacher, and all the other gurus in my life are talking about. Maybe sometimes all we need to do it Nothing, and suddenly, everything rights itself. Maybe we’re so busy doing Something that we fail to just let go. Maybe the best way to do Something is to stop Doing altogether. But then again, I suck at that.
Tonight, I’m going to pick up that Martha Beck book and crack it open again. Maybe there’s something to doing Nothing every day. I can’t imagine making the time for hours of daily meditation. Maybe some of you can make the time for that kind of stillness in your life- and more power to you! But I’m lucky if I can get 5 minutes of stillness, so I’m gonna start small and trust the universe (and all the gigantic hints it has given me about this lately). Stay tuned. I’ll let you know what happens (or should I say, what doesn’t happen).
Okay, I'm off to Jolie's yoga class at Yoga Garden, which includes a 15 minute meditation. Yikes! 15 whole minutes without an Ipod or a computer or a book or something to stop the racing thoughts! Wish me courage.
What about you? Have you ever found that all your problems get solved when you simply slow down and quit fighting the current? Tell us your stories of Something and Nothing.
Dr. Lissa Rankin is an OB/GYN physician, an author, a nationally-represented professional artist, and the founder of Owning Pink, an online community committed to building authentic community and empowering women to get- and keep- their "mojo". Owning Pink is all about owning all the facets of what makes you whole- your health, your sexuality, your spirituality, your creativity, your career, your relationships, the planet, and YOU. Dr. Rankin is currently redefining women’s health at the Owning Pink Center, her practice in Mill Valley, California. She is the author of the forthcoming What's Up Down There? Questions You'd Only Ask Your Gynecologist If She Was Your Best Friend (St. Martin's Press, September 2010).