The art of doing nothing and tips for achieving calm

Motivational speaker Agapi Stassinopoulos, author of Wake Up To The Joy Of You. shares the importance of doing nothing and tips on how to achieve a calmer sense of being

girl relaxing with feet up

This is one of my favourite quotes of all time. When I find a quiet place at home and still myself, forgetting my own preoccupations and tapping into something deeper than my own identity, it’s incredibly freeing. If you spend five to ten minutes a day in that state of forgetting who you think you are, you will tap into who you truly are, and in this state you can experience pure bliss. The journalist Eric Barker expressed the same message in terms that are more relevant in today’s world: “Those who can sit in a chair, undistracted for hours, mastering subjects and creating things will rule the world—while the rest of us frantically and futilely try to keep up the texts, tweets, and other incessant interruptions.”

Let’s follow this great advice right now. Take a deep breath and exhale. Relax. Now, do nothing.

And I mean nothing. Nothing in your head, nothing to say. Suspend all your worries, your future pursuits, concerns about other people, as though you’re putting up a big white canvas in front of you, with nothing on it. Take time to pause and do nothing. Do you know that one of the best ways to be creative and productive is to give yourself a break? As Michel de Montaigne said, “They have only stepped back in order to leap farther.” It’s similar to how there are white spaces, gaps, in art. Pausing is a part of music. In every symphony, there are rests between the notes—this pause is honoured and treated with great reverence. Harold Pinter, the well-known English playwright, wrote pauses into his plays, in between the lines, indicating how long each actor should wait before delivering the next line. When I was studying theatre, I learned how important these pauses were for dramatic effect; they were never empty, but instead filled with silence and were called “pregnant pauses.”

The Art of Doing Nothing

When I ask people, “When was the last time you did nothing?” they can’t remember and confess they’re fearful of being left behind

When I ask people, “When was the last time you did nothing?” they can’t remember and confess they’re fearful of being left behind. When we have to wait at an airport or a doctor’s office, we always fill the minutes with texting, e‑mailing, reading, talking, being frustrated, making a mental to‑do list of everything that needs to get done. But consider this: you could reflect on things that matter to you. You could just do nothing and give yourself time to wonder. We are all addicted to technology. Social media demands so much of us, and we are consumed by being connected. This fills up the spaces where otherwise our creativity could flourish, where we could wonder. You have the ability to stop, let your mind wander, allow new creative thoughts and ideas to come to you, tune into your own breath, embrace your own being in a moment of quiet. This is sacred. You can refine the art of doing nothing when you’re alone at home—in the bathtub, swinging in a hammock, sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch—or strolling through the park, walking along the beach, feeding the seagulls, just being with yourself. That’s when your intuitive inner self can emerge.

One of my favourite things to do as a little girl was to swing aimlessly. It gave me such joy and took away the pressure that I was feeling; it was my time to really wonder. As Veronique Vienne wrote in her book The Art of Doing Nothing, “For a child doing nothing doesn’t mean being inactive. It means doing something that doesn’t have a name.” I remember a time when I went fishing with a fisherman in the Greek islands at dawn. It was enthralling to watch him so patiently waiting to catch the fish, watching the line to see if it moved. Witnessing his stillness in the calmness of the sea, I felt completely present and at peace. Doing nothing isn’t just about feeling good. Vienne also wrote, “Some of the best thinking we do happens when the conscious mind is on sabbatical. Isaac Newton figured out the law of universal gravitation when sitting under a tree. Ben Franklin invented the lightning rod while flying a kite. Thomas Edison came up with the light-bulb filament while idly rolling kerosene residue between his fingers. Albert Einstein pondered the riddle of the universe with a cat on his lap.” What an endorsement for doing nothing! Who knows what you might discover and contribute to society!

Doing nothing is not meditation—that can become one more thing to do. I’m talking about free-falling with yourself. Staring, gazing. Did you know that gazing is a spiritual practice—you can gaze at the horizon until you expand your vision into something larger than yourself, and merge with this expansiveness. Doing nothing can open you up to the awe of your life, the mystery of who you are. It’s remarkable what happens when you slow down. No longer operating from “time famine,” you’ll feel timeless. There are a lot of Eastern practices that involve this non-doing, this non-effort, this leaning back and surrendering. However, in the West, we train our minds in such a linear way, constantly pushing ourselves to produce. We feel guilty when we’re not producing. We are programmed to do, not to be. We tell ourselves that if we’re not accomplishing, we will fall behind. So we often feel pressured and anxious and keep moving to relieve that anxiety. But, as Rumi said, “You wander from room to room, hunting for the diamond necklace that’s already around your neck.” Return to that calm place inside of you often. Build it until it becomes your way of being. Imagine how amazing life would be if you did things from that place of no effort. I encourage you to give yourself this gift of finding creative ways to do nothing.

Suggestions for this week

1. Make it a habit to watch the sun set and appreciate the slow-motion transition from day to night. Take the colours in and notice how each sunset varies from day to day. Gaze upon the horizon and allow your eyes to soften. Fill your heart with gratitude and awe.

2. Throughout each day, make it a habit to pause and get back to your own natural breath and internal rhythm. Back away from your to‑do list. Take a walk around your space, leaving your phones behind, wherever you are; just five to ten minutes of slowing down will energize you.

3. Find a place in your home where you can “lean back,” allowing yourself to let go of “the next thing” and all the things that are preoccupying you. Stare, be, and breathe—there is no urgency

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