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The danger and importance of “doing nothing”

P1040364“What did you get up to yesterday/on the weekend/on holiday?”

“Absolutely nothing. And it was awesome”

How many times have you heard or said that yourself? Is it something that we believe to be true, or convince ourselves of in hindsight?

What is it, to do nothing? Is it good? Is it bad? According to whom or to what benchmarks?

I am one of those people that is continuously told “why don’t you just relax, and do nothing for a while?!” and I always have a response to that.Whether it has something to do with all the things I want to do, or the fact that complying implies a sense of loss on my behalf, but I never, ever want to “do nothing”.

Yet over the last few years, few injuries and recoveries post-race, post busy periods of time, I’ve actually started doing that. Whether or not I admit it to myself is a different question. Still, I have not been able to shake the feeling of guilt and loss for wasting resources, possibilities.. but most importantly, time.

Firstly, what is it, “to do nothing”? Is it to do nothing of value? Is it sitting in stillness? Is it recovery? Is it just, simply, maintaining status quo, by default, compared to “doing something”, like turning up to work/training/social gatherings?

Sometimes, in order to describe something, it’s easier to explain the opposite. Doing “something” implies progress and achievement. It is setting a goal and working to achieve it, thereby deriving satisfaction or otherwise from either the process or attainment of one. We define our lives by having either one big, overarching goal, and/or in the absence of one, with smaller, achievable missions, either to seek immediate or delayed enjoyment.

Thus, doing “nothing” would imply waste. If goal setting and achieving is good, then doing nothing is bad.

For me “doing something” is often spending a weekend on a trail- either on a bike or on foot, sometimes with only a vague tangible objective (i.e. get to point A via points B and C). There are generally a few reasons to do it: firstly, it’s something that makes me happy. Movement is meditation, goal setting, satisfaction, growth and sense of purpose. Secondly, it is “training”, whether for a bigger event, physical or mental fortitude or simply to “be better”. It’s also a recharge, being in nature, surrounded by sights, smells, sounds which reinforce my sense of being alive, just as often during moments when physically, I’m probably closer to exhaustion and collapse as when I am literally bursting with energy and the desire to fly, figuratively or literally.

Based on that, stillness is waste. Stillness is reserved for sleep (even though I’ve been known to sleep whilst upright, walking or riding).  Therefore, outside of (usually) hours of dark, stillness is bad.

I am injured at the moment. It’s a result of pushing a little too hard, too eagerly, at the wrong times, most of this year. It is a legacy of achieving a massive goal, which came at the expense of time, sanity, work, relationships. It is a catalyst for me to start assigning value to something which, previously, was considered wasteful.

I am learning to be still. Shivasana, the “corpse pose”, final relaxation pose in every yoga class is said to be the most difficult. It is also the most important.

At the moment, I am using this stillness to teach myself to let go of the guilt. It’s a work in progress, because every day I have not learnt something or moved closer to achieving something is one I will never get back. Conversely, I am also learning that “nothing” has much deeper meaning and consequences and whilst it is still pretty hard at the moment to articulate, I am starting to comprehend another dimension to it, an important and enriching one. There are plenty of occasions when “doing something” gets you further away from where you want to go.

This is square 1. I’ve been back here many times. I know I will be back here again, but I also know each time I’m back, I’m richer, having dared and tried, sometimes having achieved, sometimes having failed. And each time I’m back here, I’ll do something different. And even if I do “nothing”, it will count for something, right now and for in the future.