I recently had another round of foot and ankle surgery, my sixth in the last 18 months. While the surgery itself was relatively minor, circumstances aligned to provide an opportunity for a solid week of rest and recovery. Instead of pushing to get back to normal activities ASAP, I consciously chose to stay focused on healing, and exploring and enjoying the concept of down time. I gave myself an entire week to just BE, without giving in to the pressure to DO.
I defined this as a week of non-doing, and I let myself fully experience and learn from all that did and DIDN’T take place during that week.
First, let me say that in my family of origin, non-doing was pretty much a swear word. We were a productive bunch, raised to believe that all “free time” must be filled by “being productive”. The orientation towards doing “something constructive” is consequently very strong for me, and our society supports this as well. Further, I am by nature very physically inclined, and to sit and rest for a day, let alone an entire week, has always been a challenge for me. Readers may recall that following past surgeries, I crutched around our local 2.6 mile lake loop just as soon as I was able, and/or “knee scootered” around the local mall. This time, however, I was limited in mobility (crutches and/or walking boot), driving challenged (right foot and ankle operation), and living far enough out of the way that to ask for rides would be cumbersome. I was essentially trapped into the possibility of non-doing. I decided to see what would happen if I consciously stepped out of doing mode and into being mode for an entire week.
First, I looked up definitions of non-doing. In Tao and Zen philosophies, non-doing is basically the practice of doing nothing (or no-thing), on the physical and mental level. It doesn’t require effort, it just requires being. Doing in a non-doing way means without excess tension and without mental or physical grasping. At it’s very essence, non-doing allows the mind and body to expand into an awareness of what happens when we are mentally and physically still, and to not judge what happens or try to change it. Meditation is a common form of non-doing, and I would argue that massage can be as well. Both are a relinquishing into being that allows us to take a break from our seemingly endless doing!
Next I googled the benefits of non-doing. I learned that a time of meditation or other ceasing of mental and physical activity allows the body to relax deeply and completely and regenerate, revive, recoup and regroup. Cessation of activity encourages the organs and nervous system to come back into a greater balance and harmony. Non-doing taps into our human “beingness”, when we step away from our human “doingness”. We can more readily access and assess what is important and what’s not, what needs to be held onto and what can be let go of. It allows a time for feeling deeply and tuning into intuition. A time of non-doing can create a space where true depth of being and character can emerge. It can cultivate a resting of the mind into “primary awareness”, a realization that our enlightened nature is, was, and always will be something separate from our “every day awareness”.
All of that is completely in line with what I believe in and strive for (in a non-striving way, of course!) in my life. I have been practicing mindfulness and meditation regularly for some time now, and I thought this would be a great opportunity to deepen my practice. So I chose to take this on, take a week and focus on being, not doing. I laid down some ground rules, what would and wouldn’t be allowed in my week of non-doing. Here is what I came up with:
Allowed Non-doing Activities
Meditation — Both guided and unguided, structured and instructed.
Massage — While I hoped to receive full body massage on my leave, I couldn’t quite make that happen. So instead I settled for self-massage. I did a lot of neck, shoulder, low back, glute, and hamstring massage, mostly to compensate for stiffness induced from sitting around so much.
Listening to positive information — Hay House World Summit, affirmation sound tracts, audio books — basically anything that put positive thoughts into my brain, made me think and ponder life and my existence, or just plain tickled my funny bone.
Reading — books, internet articles, massage journals, inspirational reading. Again, I only put in information that made me feel good about myself and life. No negativity was allowed in, to the best that I could control.
Lying in the Sun!
Visits with friends and family. One friend came out to plant flowers, my daughter and her boyfriend came for mother’s day and made me dinner, another friend took me on errands and to my meditation group. I also talked on the phone (or exchanged texts) with numerous other friends and family.
Writing of any inspired (and sometimes quite uninspired!) sort — journal writing, blog posts (including 4th Year Anniversary post) and participation in my monthly writing group.
Practicing Mindfulness — Since I had the time, I focussed on being mindful in all areas of my daily life. This included how I moved, ate, spoke, what I thought about, and how I interacted with others.
Quality kitty time — My two cats loved that I was home for a week, and they got lots of extra attention and affection.
Sitting and contemplating life…including how difficult it was at times, to do JUST that!
“Prohibited” Activities, Ones I conscious DIDN’T do
Exercise of any sort. Don’t misunderstand my thoughts on the importance of exercise as part of a healthy lifestyle. I am a huge advocate of this. But due to my heavy reliance on physical activity as a “healthy coping mechanism”, I was curious to see how I would do without that in my repertoire for a week.
Driving — I must confess, I did do this once…but only once, and with a friend along in case it didn’t work out. I even did a few errands when I was out.
Letting myself get caught up in the pressure of self-imposed deadlines.
Giving in to feelings of guilt or stress associated with not doing anything “productive”.
Anything that raised my level of physiological anxiety. I paid close attention to how I felt in my physical body, and if some stimulus made me feel anxious, increased my pain level, or raised my blood pressure, I did my best to alter the stimulus, or at least my response to it.
HOW DID IT ALL GO?
Here are my Impressions from the Week of Non-Doing:
1. It was harder than I expected. I really had to work with my thoughts and feelings of guilt about not doing anything productive, not “taking full advantage” of a week off by being super productive. Repeatedly and often I had to remind myself that it was OK to just be for a week. The frantic doing could be picked back up at any time, I reassured myself.
2. I noticed and learned an immense amount about myself, my tendencies, and my habits. When I slowed way down and paid attention and approached life mindfully and with great awareness, I reached a place of understanding of who I am and what makes me tick. I observed when I wanted to pull my hair out, to escape myself and my feelings, to flee some scary part of myself. But I didn’t DO any of those things, just sat with the feelings and impulses. I noticed that they always passed, of course!
3. The hardest part was not exercising. Movement has always been a key part of my life. I rarely take more than one or two days off from doing something, even in a post-operative state. To consciously do nothing beyond moving from chair to car or outside or whatever was very challenging. I had to fight the urge to get out there and crutch around the lake or do floor exercises or something. It was interesting to note how I felt — emotionally, psychically, physically, and cognitively — when exercise was out of the picture for a week.
4. I felt more spiritually connected with “the universe”. I don’t know how else to put it, except to say that in slowing way down for a week, I experienced a deeper sense of being connected to a source much greater than myself.
5. I found I could tolerate much more than I expected. I was more patient with myself, more able to tune in, to watch, to be the outside observer of how I was being in my life.
6. The best part of the week was coming more into alignment with what is and what isn’t me. I got through the week, and got a lot out of it. Much of that related to the realization of what is and isn’t me. Sitting and lying down for a week was nice, but it’s not fully me. The me that exists in this time and space DOES require regular movement. The ongoing quest for balance in this area is one that will no doubt remain an evolving challenge for me.
In summary, I learned that it’s OK to take a week off from life and productivity. It’s OK, even highly beneficial to take a time out from the normal routines of life, and try something radically different. It was a great exercise, in all ways. I came to a greater acceptance of letting things be just as they are, of not trying to force anything. I paid especially close attention to my longings, frustrations, and deepest thoughts and feelings associated with stillness. I reached a place of intuitive knowing about myself that I hadn’t been able to reach before. I learned that non-doing requires it’s own type of discipline. In many ways, it was more challenging for me to not do than to do.
When the week was up, I quickly eased back into normal life. I drove to a local two-mile forest loop exactly one week post-op, and walked it in my walking boot (no crutches, though!) I returned to work the following day, and worked three days in a row, with slightly less than a full-client load. It all went very well. The transition from non-doing to doing wasn’t exactly subtle, but a time of transition was present. The joy and satisfaction I felt and experienced from walking and working and being out and about was incredible! Not doing for an entire week made the doing so much sweeter.
And these gifts of self-knowledge from the week continue to make their presence known as I move into this next phase of the journey!