On his first visit to France after being released from prison, the press asked Nelson Mandela what he wanted to do most. “Sit down and do nothing,” Mandela answered. “Since the time of my release from prison, I haven’t had that luxury. I’ve been so busy. So the thing I wish for the most is to sit down and do nothing.” Here is a man who changed the world through his activism expressing a need for something we all need–time to sit and do nothing, to just be.
With so much to do, we think, “Who has time to just sit around doing nothing?” It seems like a waste. Far from being a waste, it is essential for our health and well-being. Lydia, like many of us, discovered this the hard way. A hard-driving perfectionist, she was on top of everything balancing carpools, meetings, meals, her son’s sports practices, finances, taking care of her husband, watching the evening news. The problem is after years of this kind of stress, she was breaking down.
In one of her journal entries she wrote….”Still up…Still not finished with my work…Still gotta get up in the morning…Still tired…Still have to try to get some rest…Still l will be prepared before I set foot in the classroom…Still will be happy when I can say I’m done!” The problem is she was never done.
Depressed, exhausted, and disillusioned Lydia sought psychological counseling. She came with a list of goals she wanted to accomplish, more “things” to do, and a set of instructions on exactly how she wanted to be helped. Her goals included regular exercise, better organizational skills, and more “down time.” The problem as she saw it was finding a way to fit these into her already too-busy schedule. “I just need someone to help me get organized and hold me accountable for achieving my goals,” she instructed. So exercise, organization and rest were added to her to do list. More stress!
Lydia was on the right track, but instead of adding exercise, organization and down time to her long list of tasks, what she really needed was a healthy way to address and deal with her stress.
Like many people, serenity wasn’t something Lydia associated with a busy successful person who has children, a job, a husband, community service, and church responsibilities. She thought it was something to look forward to on vacation, in quiet moments, or when you retire – something you fit in to an already too busy schedule. It never occurred to her that serenity could become a priority that is cultivated and practiced each and every day.
We started with a simple and brief meditation practice. Lydia was instructed to find a comfortable position in a chair with both feet resting comfortably flat on the floor with a straight but not rigid spine. As she released the weight of her body on to the cushion of the chair and let her belly soften she brought all of her attention to breathing in and breathing out. When her mind wandered, she gently brought her awareness back to her breath. She agreed to do this twice a day for seven minutes each time. It’s hard to argue that you can’t devote seven minutes twice a day to such a practice. Sticking to seven minutes invites you in to the discipline of doing something on a regular basis for a set period of time and it’s manageable.
One of the first things you might encounter as you sit to meditate, is how busy your mind is. Many first-time meditators feel as though they want to jump out of their skin. If at first you experience agitation, just know that as you cultivate the art of breathing in and breathing out and smiling as you do you, you will discover great comfort and pleasure in doing this practice.
Don’t underestimate the power of brief periods of meditation. As Lydia practiced being still for brief periods of time during the day, it became her priority. She spontaneously began to make changes that enhanced her own as well as her family’s wellbeing. Like Lydia, you’re probably busy all day with family, work, and life in general. Don’t wait for a vacation or retirement to be still and re-energize. Instead of resisting or avoiding it, enjoy the stillness and reap the benefits of this serenity practice. Meditation relaxes the central nervous system, calms the mind, relieves anxiety, helps relieve stress, relaxes the body, reduces insomnia, improves sleep, reduces headache and fatigue, and helps relieve depression. It enhances clarity of mind, which leads to better decision-making.
If you don’t already have a serenity practice begin to cultivate one. No one of us is so busy that we can’t give seven to 14 minutes a day to being still. If doing it for yourself seems selfish, do it for all the people who are so busy running around that they don’t take the time to return to themselves and just be.
Being still allows your breath and mind to relax and release any tension. Think of it as a catnap. When you wake up slowly, you’ll feel an amazing combination of serenity and energy that allows you to get on with the business of your life in a more effective, efficient way. You’ll discover that instead of wasting time, the practice of mindfully “doing nothing” actually saves you time.