Tonight I’m going to the launch of Not Doing: The Art of Turning Struggle into Ease, the latest book by Steven d’Souza, author of Not Knowing. I was a contributor to the book, and this evening I’ll be speaking on a panel alongside Mac Macartney, Gerald West and Mark Walsh, as well as Steven, to expand on this idea of Not Doing.
Not Doing? I hear you ask. But then how would things get, well, done?
And you would be right, somewhat. Without a certain amount of doing, there would be no books, music, art, houses, companies, electronics, medicine, or countless other things that we rely on for our lives, wellbeing and comfort.
It’s more a question of how much doing, and what kind.
Rowing across oceans, you would imagine, involves an awful lot of doing. As well as the 12 hours of rowing a day, there is also the doing of maintenance, cooking, blogging, logbooking, sleeping when possible, and so on.
There is certainly plenty of physical doing, but mentally, it’s a different story. Mentally, there is time and space and opportunity to let the mind wander, to imagine, to remember, to philosophise, to wonder, to let the mind explore its own nooks and crannies. Sometimes, it could fairly be said, there is too much time for this, especially when those nooks and crannies contain demons that you thought you’d left behind long ago. But even when it is challenging and scary to let the mind wander at will, those months alone at sea were times that I cherished. There was time to watch the clouds, admire the beauty of sunrises and sunsets, feel joy at the passing company of a whale or a pod of dolphins. In short, there was time to simply be.
By contrast, I can remember making landfall in Honolulu, Hawaii. Most of my landfalls were on relatively laid-back tropical islands, but Honolulu is intensely commercial. I recall flinching at the sudden transition from the ocean wilderness to a world of cars, crowds, tall buildings, and shops selling electronics, designer clothes, and jewellery. Even though most people were presumably on holiday, they still seemed to be in a frenzy of doing, and a lot of the doing seemed to be based around stuff.
One of the messages I took away from the movie Tawai was that, in a healthy ecosystem, hunting and gathering doesn’t take much time, leaving plenty of opportunity for relaxing and socialising. So why is it, that for most of us in the western world whose needs are more than adequately met, we still feel the need to rush around in pursuit of more?
Doing has its place, but I’d like to suggest that we have become too much yang, and not enough yin, too much doing, and not enough being.
We are a world out of balance. Even mindfulness, which is exploding in popularity, is in danger of becoming one more thing that we have to find time to do. Meditation, as I interpret it, is meant to be more a way of being than a thing of doing.
Where is all this doing getting us?
Stressed, burned out, lost and confused. It takes time – real, proper, deep thinking time – to figure out who we are, what we want, and where we are going. When we deny ourselves that time, we blunder on regardless, but without a clear sense of direction or purpose. It’s only when we see the insanity of the whole doing enterprise that we can step off the hamster wheel and get some clarity.
Yesterday I had a wonderful conversation with Bex Band of Love Her Wild. You’ll see from her bio that Bex opted out of the corporate world, and found a whole new world of possibility based on a simpler lifestyle that prioritised experiences over expenditure. Ditto my friends Nix Moss and Casey Sheppard. Ditto The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari (yes, I know it’s not true). Ditto Happier People, Healthier Planet, and The Moneyless Man. Oh, and ditto me.
It becomes clear that doing less is not just an attractive option, but also an environmental imperative.
I am reminded of the story of the fisherman and the businessman, which I highly recommend you take one minute to read.
Fittingly, today the card I drew from my Zen Osho deck was “Slowing Down”, with an image of a tortoise. The interpretation includes this passage:
“Walking is Zen, sitting is Zen.
Then what will be the quality? Watchfully, alert, joyously, unmotivated, centred, loving, flowing, one walks. And the walking is sauntering. Loving, alert, watchful, one sits, unmotivated – not sitting for anything in particular, just enjoying how beautiful just sitting doing nothing is, how relaxing, how restful…
After a long walk, you sit under a tree and the breeze comes and cools you. Each moment one has to be at ease with oneself – not trying to improve, not cultivating anything, not practicing anything.
Walking is Zen, sitting is Zen.”
So take a moment today to saunter, to not do, but simply to be.
Most of my time at the moment is spent conceptualising The Sisters, a global women’s network I intend to launch later this year.
But also this week various enjoyable meetings – with Casper Craven, whose book about sailing around the world with his wife and three young children comes out this May; with Anuradha Das Mathur from the Vedica Scholars in India; a lunch kindly hosted by Rajni and Sri from the Wings of Hope charity to thank those of us who spoke at their Back to School event in January; champagne at the top of The Gherkin with the Cordon Rouge Club (that was a particularly tough tour of duty, as you can imagine); catching up with the Thought Expansion Network, who manage my speaking engagements; and a delightful and formative conversation with Jay Golden of Retellable.
Ah well, look at me and all this doing I’m doing! But I promise you, also taking good time for thinking and being.