Doing Nothing

by Mark Walstrom

Life as we know it is changing rapidly and dramatically. In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between stillness and activity. As a result, we have lost connection to ourselves, each other, and the sacred.

In all of life there is a rhythm of rest and activity. There is the rhythm of active growth in spring and summer and the necessary dormancy of fall and winter. There is a rhythm in the way the lively pulse of day dissolves into the quiet of night. In our bodies, the heart rests between beats; the lungs rest between inhaling and exhaling.

We have lost this essential rhythm. Our culture supposes that doing something, anything, is better than doing nothing. Because we do not take time to be still we miss the quiet that would bring us wisdom and we lose our way.

Our lack of rest and reflection is not just a personal affliction. It colors the way we build and sustain community; it dictates the way we respond to suffering, and it shapes the ways in which we seek peace and healing in the world. With a few notable exceptions, the way problems are solved is frantically, desperately, and reactively.

When we allow the rush and pressure of our days to fall away, even for a short period of time, we are more able to discern the essential truth of what lies before us. There is a Taoist saying: “To the mind that is still, the world surrenders.” A quiet mind is a mind that can be still. A still mind is a mind that is free from fear, free from fantasies, free from ruminations about the past, free from concern about what may or may not be happening to it. It is a mind no longer disturbed by the many thoughts that come from believing that fulfillment lies in what we have or what we do. A day of rest, a moment of silence, a time of meditation can disrupt the pattern of desperation that infects our thinking, and allow us to be able to see the solution that is already present in the problem.

We do not know where we are going. We are riding a wave we cannot see. Such is the way of the spirit. If we let ourselves become vulnerable and bewildered, and start to listen, even half consciously, for a higher meaning to life, we find that our deepest essence will start to initiate us in direct and sometimes shocking ways. In the quiet of being still wisdom emerges. Stay quiet long enough, and doors open that lead us to deeper essential truths. We are given whatever we need to move forward — a series of dreams or visions, a meeting with a mentor, or a magazine article that brings us clarity.

Quiet invites us to endless beginnings. Every moment offers us a new perspective, a broader more expansive outlook beyond the limitations of our finite thoughts. Sometimes, when we feel trapped by a problem, we must surrender to not knowing the solution. Sometimes it is only when we quiet the noisy chatter of our minds and let go of the problem, that it has space to solve itself.

At our best, we become quiet for one another. We become a container for others to find rest in. We listen without judgment or criticism, moving aside our personal agendas or our need to fix or rescue others. In the words of Yeats: “We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us, that they may see their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even a fiercer life, because of our quiet.”

Silence is not always a warm, inviting space. It connects us to our emptiness. For some people, emptiness can feel fertile and spacious, alive with possibility. But others feel emptiness as an ache, a void; something painful, in need of being filled.

This is one of our fears of quiet; if we stop and listen, we will hear this emptiness. If we worry we are not good or whole inside, we will be reluctant to stop and be still. If we are fearful of what we will find in rest, we will refuse to stop filling up our lives with tasks, accomplishments, and things to be done.

While our busyness may keep us safe, it also keeps us spiritually malnourished. Only when we take refuge in quiet silence can we feel the company of the holy forces and hear the inner voices that are present to guide us. It is within all of us, if we will only be quiet and listen.

Mark Walstrom is a Licensed Professional Counselor in private practice in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He can be contacted at (616) 222-9857.