How to Master The Zen Art Of Doing Nothing

by: Michael Kerr, Zensapiens


“People say nothing is impossible, but I do Nothing all the time!” utters Winnie-the-Pooh in all innocence. Just in case you're wondering this isn't from the cartoon, it's in the Walt Disney's Christopher Robin film. This movie contains loads of potential value bombs on the art of living that we may not easily spot on the surface.


Spoiler alert…

For those who enjoyed the cartoon version during their childhood, myself included, you would instantly realize the stark contrast in the story. It’s no longer about the silly bear, no no no, quite the contrary, it's instead about silly Christopher Robin.


Now middle-aged, Christopher Robin is lost in the maze of a materialistic and fast-paced corporate world, stressed and pressed by the relentless demands at work. 

I did say spoiler alert...


Like most of us, Christopher Robin finds the simplicity and rusticity of the toy bear unsettling. He gives Winnie-the-Pooh a sidelong glance and wonders about the foolish words of the affectionately dubbed "silly bear".


Sure, we all know how to do nothing. We all know how to lay around and waste time. Doing nothing therefore by no surprise is closely associated with laziness, lax and even sloth. However, on the contrary, Zen philosophy promulgates that finding time in your day to do absolutely nothing have the ability to turn the key to mindfulness and contribute to sustainable living.


After all, it's not just doing nothing, it's really tapping into the ancient form of what is truly Zen.


Modern Interpretations

This Zen philosophy of doing nothing is expressed in the modern context in Europe with the Danish Hygge (Full Discretion, this link contains my affiliate link to Amazon.com, I do receive a small commission from this book purchase) Dutch “Niksen” and the popularized Italian phrase “La Dolce Far Niente, which means "the sweetness of doing nothing."

"Nothing can be as simple as just hanging around with friends or family, looking around or sitting on a chair and looking out the window," according to Times Magazine.


On a basic Zen philosophy level “nothingness” is achieved as long as the action has no purpose and it doesn't lead to anything. 


Doing nothing can be a waste of time, or it can be a true art form. This article is intended to help myself and all readers to become a master at doing nothing, and in the process, improve your well-being, melt away stress and ironically increase productivity during the peak hours of work commitments.


Begin with the Zen In Mind

There will be days when you feel overwhelmed as Christopher Robin, or when you don’t feel like doing anything, Here is a groundbreaking solution— do absolutely nothing. Seriously.

This advice might seem counterproductive or even downright against the grain of what we would call sanity. To do nothing? When you have emails and messages to respond to, people to meet and of course, work or school! 


I too contemplated at the thought, “doing nothing?” “oh, that’s utter madness.” I’ve always worked hard to maintain an A+ average during study periods as well as working my butt off in the working world. Even on vacation I still felt the urge to "do something" at all times. Like Christopher Robin, I literally felt pointless doing nothing.


Here’s the golden nugget in my doing nothingness.


As an MBA student in one the top Universities in Europe I surely still believe in hard work and full commitment to realize my goals; however, what I do is find time in my day to also commit to doing absolutely nothing.


This is the balance of it all, well at least for me.


Schedule Doing Nothing

Ok, so we agree my method is taking parts of my day to do nothing. For starters, let’s say 10 minutes a day when you first wake up, 10-minute during your workday, or before bed. This is a perfect start, 10 minutes. This will eventually blossom into a few hours a week with consistency paving the path to mastery of doing nothing. Cool huh?

The major culprit to this time will be your phone. We are indeed naturally social creatures and with a constant bombardment of new things to do and see on our mobile. Our phones and social media have practically become our comfort zone and dare I say our life support. 


During this time of doing nothing, jettison all the screens – your computer, your tablet, your smartphone, your smartwatch – everything. Set an alarm if needed and do nothing.


My “doing nothing journey” actually started from an ad hoc reactionary measure from being overwhelmed. Like having an 8-hour deadline to submit a project or task I often undertake several short mental exercises to help breathe consciously.  


Yes, there is the simple in-out exercise, but I’ve adopted a method from Thick Nhat Hanh, reciting these four lines silently as we breathe in and out:

  1.  Breathing in, I calm my body.

  2. Breathing out, I smile. Here you must smile... 

  3. Dwelling in the present moment, 

  4. I know this is a wonderful moment!

Thick Nhat Hanh mentioned in his book Peace in Every Step, (Full Discretion, this link contains my affiliate link to Amazon.com, I do receive a small commission from this book purchase)


“Breathing in, I calm my body.” Reciting this line is like drinking a glass of cool lemonade on a hot day — you can feel the coolness permeate your body.


When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel my breath calming my body and mind. “Breathing out, I smile.” You know a smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face. Wearing a smile on your face is a sign that you are master of yourself.


Ad Hoc helps for starters but if you begin planning when you are going to “do nothing” in advance, it can help ease any sense of anarchy. Make it a habit to get to know yourself in your own skin and in your own thoughts without distraction.


Some people might call this zazen, some meditation or relaxation, but I along with a lot of Zen lovers simply call it the art of doing nothing.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blogpost are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views of Phryme Magazine