Dear Still Water Friends,
I have been regularly meditating for many years now, but over the past couple weeks, I have encountered a deep resistance to the practice. Meditation has felt like a struggle, and I have had to force myself to do what not long ago was a source of great joy to me. During this time, I have made the time to sit in meditation, but I have been distracted with thoughts of discontentment, a strong sense that I have better things to do, that sitting and doing nothing is a waste of my time.
In his book, Answers from the Heart: Practical Responses to Burning Questions, our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, addressed this question directly:
Q: I feel guilty when I’m not occupied. Is it okay to do nothing?
A: In our society, we’re inclined to see doing nothing as something negative, even evil. But when we lose ourselves in activities we diminish our quality of being. We do ourselves a disservice. It’s important to preserve ourselves, to maintain our freshness and good humor, our joy and compassion. In Buddhism we cultivate “aimless I feel guiltyness” and in fact in Buddhist tradition the ideal person, an arhat or bodhisattva, is a businessless person– someone with nowhere to go and nothing to do.
Thay provides more insight on this principle in Peace is Every Step:
In the West, we are very goal oriented. We know where we want to go and are very directed in getting there. This may be useful, but often we forget to enjoy ourselves along the route. There is a word in Buddhism [apranihita] that means “wishlessness” or “aimlessness”. The idea is that you do not put something in front of you and run after it, because everything is already here, in yourself.”
Often we tell ourselves, “Don’t just sit there, do something!” But when we practice awareness, we discover something unusual. We discover that the opposite may be more helpful. “Don’t just do something, sit there!”
Reading these passages has been a good reminder to me that the practice of mindfulness is not something to strive for, or an accomplishment to attain; it is the art of cultivating aimlessness. The true power of mindfulness is not in acquiring a state of peace and joy, but a realization that these things are already present. The goal of the practice of mindfulness is to stop and be present to what is already here and now.
This Thursday evening after our sitting and walking meditation, we will discuss our challenges and successes with cultivating aimlessness. Here are three questions that will help guide our discussion:
What are your challenges with cultivating aimlessness?
How have you worked with these challenges when they are present during a meditation?
How has your practice benefited from cultivating aimlessness?
I hope you can join us.
Below you will find more of Thich Nhat Hanh’s insights into aimlessness and a mantra that can be used to help focus the distracted mind and bring it back to the practice of being present.
From Answers from the Heart: Practical Responses to Burning Questions by Thich Nhat Hanh:
People should learn how to just be there, doing nothing. Try to spend a day doing nothing; we call that a “lazy day”. Although for many of us who are used to running around from this to that, a lazy day is actually very hard work! It’s not easy to just be. If you can be happy, relaxed, and smiling when you’re not doing something, you’re quite strong. Doing nothing brings about quality of being, which is very important. So doing nothing is actually something. Please write that down and display it in your home: Doing nothing is something.
From Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh:
Humankind’s survival depends on our ability to stop rushing. We have more than 50,000 nuclear bombs, and yet we cannot stop making more. “Stopping” is not only to stop the negative, but to allow the positive healing to take place. That is the purpose of our practice — not to avoid life, but to experience and demonstrate that happiness in life is possible now and also in the future.
From Touching Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh:
Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.
Breathing out, I feel fresh.
Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.
Breathing out, I feel solid.
Breathing in, I see myself as still water.
Breathing out, I reflect all that is.
Breathing in, I see myself as space.
Breathing out, I feel free.