The Art Of Doing Nothing


I have a problem…and admitting it is the first step.

I have a problem doing nothing.

It’s not as bad as some people I’ve met. These are the people who literally do six things at once. If you try to have a coffee with them, they can’t keep their fingers from wandering onto their Blackberry keys, glancing off in other directions, or maintaining a single thread of conversation.

Myself, on the other hand, is the type who has a constant need to feel productive.

If my days were structured into clear 9-5 work hours, it would be easier. Yet since I work for myself, I’m free to set my own hours…which is another way of saying: it’s always time for work.

Try this: sit quietly on your couch, with no music, no tv, no distractions. Just sit there and notice what it feels like.

I’m not talking about meditation…which technically, is still doing something. Or put another way, meditation is deliberately doing nothing.

Back to the couch.

For me, a few minutes into the experiment, my mind will wander to all the tasks that are not being completed: I could write another blog post. Vacuum the apartment. Clean the dishes. Make the bed. Get rid of old books. Pretend to play the piano. Check Facebook again. The list goes on.

My mind has difficulty accepting that it’s okay to do nothing.

In fact, it can be far more effective in some situations to do nothing. This wisdom is illustrated in Taoism by the concept of wu wei.

Pamela Ball writes in “The Essence of Tao”:

In order to experience true emptiness it is more correct to think of wu wei as the space in which things happen. No action need be taken and we can rest quietly awaiting events. On a personal level this means that we are open to any experience, any happening, any adjustment that occurs from within ourselves.

By doing nothing we allow a situation to flow of its own accord. We allow ourselves to unfold naturally, without forcing an imposed belief that all moments need to be diced, tagged, and justified.

In short, we experience the beauty of doing nothing.


  1. Well stated! Too often, I find convoluted explanations of wu wei on the web. So many people seem to want to take this simple and basic concept and make it so damn complicated. 🙂

  2. Thank you sooo much for this post Ian!

    I always have to be doing something, feeling productive. Been doing that for years in the corporate world.

    The totally laid-back hubby has been helping me value downtime. The art of doing absolutely nothing.

    I’m definitely a work in progress. Slowly learning each day that I really don’t have to do everything.

  3. Doing nothing always feels great for me. There’s always that voice in your head though that tells you to do something that will make your life better. Like a house, new car, or even a girl friend.

    It be great to flick a switch and turn off that “wanting” side of yourself.

  4. It really is an art. But let’s not get carried away, don’t want to see it become a trend where we have to go on nothing retreats in the mountains. Can nothing be commercialized?

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