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Nothing Really Matters

by Vidya Sury April 16, 2016 28 comments
Nothing really matters. Vidya Sury

Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself

Decades ago, as a school teacher, my Mom found a way to manage her class. With a lot of class – I might add. While the staff complained about how hard it was to control the students and keep them quiet, she introduced a revolutionary idea.

In the timetable, she introduced, alongside subject classes, games, crafts and other academic stuff, the “Do nothing period” Everyone was curious about exactly what might happen during this 35-minute time slot. She told them that she intended doing nothing, and that they were free to do whatever they wanted. They could talk their heads off, they could yell, they could just sit quietly, take a nap – whatever they wanted.

Of course they thought it (and she) was weird.

But you know what? It worked like a charm.

The first day, they freaked out.

The second day was a little more subdued. I mean, there’s their teacher just sitting quietly watching them, so it must have felt a little odd.

The third day, some of them were just sitting quietly and drawing, or just fiddling with stuff.

By the fourth day, many of them sat quietly.

The strange thing was, this class was considered the noisiest in that section.

The next week, Mom introduced meditation to these 8-year-old children. Some of them would fidget a bit, while some would become drowsy. But almost all of them calmed down in 20 minutes, stayed quiet for the next fifteen and felt refreshed at the end of the class.

They were more attentive during class, and performed better. They generally seemed to enjoy everything more.

This practice continued for as long as Mom taught in that school – which was around 6 years – and she incorporated it in all the classes she taught, including high school.

What she really introduced was the necessary downtime those children needed to recoup their focus and energy.

“…But what I like doing best is Nothing.”

“How do you do Nothing?” asked Pooh, after he had wondered for a long time.

“Well, it’s when people call out at you just as you’re going off to do it, What are you going to do Christopher Robin, and you say, Oh, nothing, and you go and do it.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh. “This is a nothing sort of thing that we’re doing right now.”

“Oh, I see,” said Pooh again. “It means just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear and not bothering.”

“Oh!” said Pooh.” 

― A. A. Milne, The House at Pooh Corner

Most of us have busy schedules and an ever-growing to-do list. We keep wishing for time “off”, but I am guessing that it really doesn’t happen.  Stress quietly builds up. We start getting just a little dissatisfied with life. We start whining a little bit.

Instead, what if we became conscious of this process and incorporated the habit of doing nothing for at least a few minutes every day?

Just sit still with a blank mind, as if we were just clearing out that mental space to let in fresh air? Quite like taking a clean plate for a meal?

When was the last time you spent a quiet moment just doing nothing – just sitting and looking at the sea, or watching the wind blowing the tree limbs, or waves rippling on a pond, a flickering candle or children playing in the park?– Ralph Marston 

Doing nothing is not actually doing nothing. If you look at it from the point of view of interacting with someone, you actually become a little vulnerable. When you stop steering the conversation and allow things to flow naturally, you actually begin to understand the person better.

At the same time, you also project confidence in yourself. You have the power to stop doing nothing when you wish and you portray that that things you are involved will be just fine even if you take a break!

Doesn’t that feel good?

Doing nothing is pretty much like a skill you have to learn, which is ironic, since it should come naturally. It isn’t just about not doing anything because we are obviously always doing something. Nevertheless, we must cultivate this necessary survival skill. We must learn the pleasure of being idle, savoring the moment, focusing on our senses.

Sometimes, it is okay to have no agenda. Remember the days when we just met our friends and wandered aimlessly with nothing to do….and not looking for anything to do? Don’t they return as the warmest memories?

Doing nothing feels like floating on warm water to me. Delightful, perfect. –Ava Gardner

We’re so caught up with “finishing this” and “getting that done” that we no longer take time off to reflect. A recent study found that the risk of a stroke is 33% higher in those who work a 55-hour week compared to those working 35-40 hours a week. Another study proves that a ten-hour or more workday raises the risk of coronary heart disease by 80%.

Simply put, if you spend most of your day at work or commuting to it or thinking about it, work on making the time to rest, without feeling guilty about it.

We need time off away from our mailboxes and our other devices, shut off that background noise and get away from the information overload that threatens us all the time. We need time to think. Let’s move off from the assumption that doing nothing is being irresponsible, lazy or wasting time.

We have to disconnect to reconnect, both with ourselves and with others.

Nothing Really Matters. Vidya Sury

If you’re still thinking I am crazy to suggest doing nothing, consider some of my favorite do nothing activities and come up with some of your own:

  • Just go sit on a park bench/ stand at the bus stop and watch people go by. Observe passively. I like to imagine stories around them. I especially enjoy watching children in conversation.
  • Sit with family and friends. Talk, or don’t talk. Let the silence hug me. If there’s music, great. So refreshing.
  • Take naps. They make you more productive. Just try it. Doze off in the middle of the day and tell me how it feels like.
  • Take a break. You feel good when you take a break. Do a crossword puzzle. Read a thriller. Color a page. Read and share jokes
  • Switch off your phone. Your thoughts are more fun than mindless scrolling through social media and feeling bad about wasting time.
  • Spend time with family. Watch a soap and laugh together
  • Binge-watch your favorite TV series.
  • Curl up on your sofa with your feet up, favorite beverage in hand and be lazy.
  • Doing nothing is good for your health. Being mindful makes your life better, happier.

Nothing really matters!

In this media-drenched, data-rich, channel-surfing, computer-gaming age, we have lost the art of doing nothing, of shutting out the background noise and distractions, of slowing down and simply being alone with our thoughts.
–Carl Honoré  

Will you spend some time doing nothing every day? ♥

Nothing Really Matters Vidya Sury

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Kala Ravi April 16, 2016 at 9:28 pm

Some of the most powerful tips for self-improvement are often the simplest! Doing nothing or dumbing down is necessary. It lets the mind wander and improves creativity. Most great inventors and geniuses were dreamers! Thanks for sharing some wonderful ideas on how to go about it. Yet again inspired by your Mom’s foresight and wisdom. Incidentally my mom’s a retired teacher too 🙂
Kala Ravi recently posted…Nice to have Niches

Debbie D April 16, 2016 at 9:38 pm

I’m great at doing nothing and practice it all the time, even this month! 🙂 The popular expression here is “veg out”. So many people lead such busy, stressful lives. So glad those days are over! It’s nice to be semi-retired and out of the rat race. This is a great reminder that everyone needs to take time out to relax. Thank you, Vidya. Namaste.
Debbie D recently posted…LETTER M is for MINIATURE POODLE | #AtoZChallenge

Vidya Sury April 16, 2016 at 10:00 pm

Yes I love the phrase veg out! I feel like doing that a lot these days, thanks to the extreme heat! But I generally just step out of the house, away from anything that involves an electrical socket 🙂 Thank you so much for coming by. I am so sad to read about Gigi. Hugs!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Mindfulness for Moms

Debbie D April 19, 2016 at 9:54 pm

Yes, getting away from the online world is so necessary, sometimes. Thanks for reading my sad story about GiGi. It was hard to write but also cathartic. Hugs back! 🙂
Debbie D recently posted…P is for PORTUGUESE WATER DOG | #AtoZChallenge

Dahlia April 16, 2016 at 9:43 pm

Ahh Vidya, this is perhaps my favorite post! You know for so many years I had only one dream, one ambition – to be able to just sit and stare into space! Sounds strange doesnt it? But there was always something that required my attention, planning, implementing, that there was no time to just be. Last year on a moment’s decision i chucked everything to realize my dream. But, half-way through a very happening challenge and alumni meets etc, I find myself again yearning for some time to do nothing! Ahh well hopefully soon, until then i am going to enjoy this as well 😀 I do seem to come and unload a lot over here dont I? Thanks for reading 🙂
Dahlia recently posted…N = Noa

Vidya Sury April 16, 2016 at 10:02 pm

I love your comment and I love that you share how you feel, Dahlia! Thank you!. I admire you for being strong enough to chase your dream! I often find that if there’s an outing during the day, I find it very hard to get back to my computer! Enjoy your alumni meets! They are so much fun! 🙂
Vidya Sury recently posted…How do you treat a friend?

Holly Jahangiri April 17, 2016 at 1:43 am

Your mother clearly understood children. 🙂 She sounds like a wonderful mom and teacher. We (well, not me, but too many parents) try to fill our children’s every waking moment with enriching experiences. Sometimes, being left alone to figure it out – to be given the luxury of free time to roam and climb trees and run and feel your toes in the grass is whats needed to grow.

I hated meditation from the first time I heard of it, because it was presented like, “Make your mind go blank.” I’m pretty sure that only people who have nothing in their brains can (or would want to) do that! If it had been presented as stillness, tranquility, focusing on the sound of the wind, or mindful listening to and observation of others – without thinking of what to say in response – it would have had more appeal and felt less like a complete waste of time.

And then I took Yoga and discovered that I was very, very good at the “corpse pose.” If anyone had told me that a sense of “out of body experience” – mentally floating around the room, and then the world – was the goal, or had anything to do with “meditation,” I might have liked it better. I can do that. But I cannot simply turn off my brain like there’s a light switch in there. Probably because I don’t WANT to – seems too akin to death.

Naps? Naps are good. But with naps come dreams. Again, hardly “emptying” the mind! More like…getting rid of the static and noise on an old TV set, and tuning in with absolute clarity to one thread of one thought. THAT I see the value in.

I’m not really sure how binge-watching TV shows is any less “wasted time” (or more enjoyable, for some of us) than scrolling the Internet. I guess it all depends on what shows and sites you find most pleasant. Reading a book is always good, too.
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G Angela April 17, 2016 at 12:30 pm

Great Post Vidya ! I am sure your mom will be so proud of you, and smiling. You have observed our mom’s life so closely and have adapted the concept in your own life, and also sharing it so many persons. I do nothing sometimes, no fixed schedule , it depends on my moods, my time and my work, accordingly I will sit in the park and just be there watching so many walking, kids swinging. At other times, I will just read something inspiring and yes sometimes I rest and relax and don’t push myself too much to complete the activities. Thanks for sharing !

Lisa Scott April 17, 2016 at 12:37 pm

I adore this post. Love every word. I am going to share it on my links page. 🙂

Vidya Sury April 17, 2016 at 12:45 pm

Thank you so much Lisa! That’s so kind of you!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Mindfulness for Moms

Sulekha April 17, 2016 at 1:29 pm

Vidya, loved your post. the Zen cartoon is awesome 🙂
I go to my terrace garden daily and after watering the plants, I just sit there and admire them. It is the most peaceful I feel throughout the day and most happy too 🙂 Right now, I am listening to the Gayatri mantra by Deva Premal on Youtube and my mind is calm and serene.

Vidya Sury April 17, 2016 at 3:55 pm

Hehe. I love that cartoon, too, Sulekha! Terrace garden! How lovely! I can imagine how nice it must feel! Watering plants is very therapeutic on the senses – when the water hits the mud, and when the plant itself seems to enjoy the shower! Hugs! I loved your wall decor photo on Facebook! What fun!
Vidya Sury recently posted…How do you treat a friend?

My Era April 17, 2016 at 3:33 pm

I loved this post because for the first time someone actually told me “Nothing really matters”.
I have spent half my life doing nothing, staring blankly into space and day-dreaming being a procrastinator. But never before could I connect my weirdly non-productive habit with something so peaceful.
I have to admit that on many places in your post I felt as if I could have said this about myself.
Loved the wonderful way your mom taught the young kids to be quiet and also to feel refreshed and focused with meditation.
This post is simply brilliant <3
My Era recently posted…Nutrition

Vidya Sury April 17, 2016 at 3:41 pm

You are just so kind, My Era! I’ve always admired my Mom for being so loving with everyone she connected with, you know. I don’t remember a day when she forced me to do something or even raised her voice at me. She had the knack of suggesting things in such a way, that the recipient was convinced it is her own idea 🙂 Doing nothing is not non-productive. It is the kindness we show ourselves, My Era. Enjoy doing it with your little one out in nature. You will cherish those moments forever and they’ll become your happy place in your mind!
Vidya Sury recently posted…How do you treat a friend?

Felicia April 17, 2016 at 6:07 pm

Another great post! I recently started a 12-week self-improvement program. Not the usual program of working out x number of hours per week and changing eating habits. My 12-week program includes two 20-minute sessions of meditation/quiet time per day.

Some days I get two sessions in and some days one, but the one thing I have noticed is that if I skip a day, I feel the difference. I’m only 2 and a half weeks into my program, but I’m enjoying each quiet session.

Not too long ago I saw a documentary on Albert Einstein. He attributed his “brilliance” to his love of daydreaming. When daydreaming, answers came to him. Similarly, I find that by having “do nothing” time, answers to previously unsolvable problems become as clear as day. Not only that, the solutions to the previously vexing problems are really very simple. If it were not for slowing down and opening my ears, mind, senses to the answers in the universe, I wouldn’t have heard them.

Finding time to do nothing is so much more important that constantly doing something.

Your mom was such a wise woman. You were blessed to have her.
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Nicola April 17, 2016 at 7:39 pm

Great post! I love this concept and also tried a similar thing during a class I taught. They were twenty eight moody 14 year olds who could not see the point of school at all. I never shouted over students chatter. I always waited patiently until I had their attention. During this one lesson, I tried to engage the kids and projected my teaching voice but to no avail. So, I just stopped talking, sat on the edge of my desk and waited. After about 15 minutes, one of the students looked at me and asked, “Aren’t you going to teach us today, Miss?” I smiled back and said, “When you are all ready.” I waited another 5 minutes, by which time the students were telling each other to be quiet because they needed to learn. The lesson resumed and I actually managed to fit everything into that 50 minute period as they were all highly focused.
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Vidya Sury April 17, 2016 at 8:00 pm

Wow! I love what you did, Nicola! What a very wise strategy! I was lucky that all my teachers at school were amazing, and we hung on to their every word … most of the time. Funny how, just some quiet makes all the difference! Thank you Nicola. Hugs!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Inner Smile

Jaishvats April 17, 2016 at 9:15 pm

What an amazing teacher! I am sure the children would always remember her…. You are right… Mindful nothing moments are necessary
Jaishvats recently posted…Silly things can make one happy! 🙂

Yolanda Renee April 17, 2016 at 11:12 pm

I love your geek meditation cartoon. So spot on! I’m still working out the kinks in my meditation but it’s the perfect way to start or end the day. I’m consciously going there as I shut down my mind at night. I love what your mother achieved during her teaching. She was imaginative and gave the students mastery over their time. So wonderful! I am looking forward to my down time at the beach in May. A birthday gift from hubby. I will strive to do all the things, quiet things, that I need to do for myself!
But here at home, my back porch, especially during spring is my favorite place to get spiritual and quiet!
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Birgit April 18, 2016 at 7:38 am

I like doing nothing…and I think I’m good at it:) actually my hubby does it much better and he doesn’t even realize it. He suffers from severe ADHD so to turn off his brain is almost impossible but in the morning, he will sit in our library, with his coffee, and just sit, pussy cat on lap and he is just staring out to the world. It’s his time and he needs this…it really helps him and he found this out for himself of which I am very proud of him.
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Richard Willis April 18, 2016 at 11:41 am

My version of “doing nothing” is reading a book.. I just can’t not do anything.. I’ll be bored as heck.
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Darla M Sands April 18, 2016 at 9:05 pm

Another fabulous post! Excellent advice, poetic and majestic. You and your mother (rest her soul) are credits to womanhood and humanity. Blessings to you. And thank you for quoting Pooh and sharing the fun cartoons.
Darla M Sands recently posted…O is for Otep

Ellen Bard April 19, 2016 at 8:48 am

Lovely post Vidya – especially the Winne the Pooh reference! It’s funny how coincidences come, this is the second time I’ve had someone talk about this in two days.

I’ve recently been experimenting with the phone app ‘Moment’ which tracks phone use, and I also read ‘Deep Work’ and it’s really made me focus on how I turn to my phone in moments of potential boredom, when actually, just a little doing nothing would be tons better.
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Vidya Sury April 19, 2016 at 11:08 am

Thank you Ellen! I must try the app! I am using Time Doctor to manage my time these days and it has made such a tremendous difference to the way I am tackling my work. It has kept me focused, especially because it also tracks which websites I visit and how much time I spend there. Hehehe, funny experience and helped me reign myself in! It has certainly helped me create time for my own “do nothings” Hugs!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Our Love Grows

Sandra Pawula April 19, 2016 at 9:08 am

What an amazing story of your mother’s experience teaching “doing nothing!” This is so true: “What she really introduced was the necessary downtime those children needed to recoup their focus and energy.” Thanks for the encouragement and all the ideas.

Vidya Sury April 19, 2016 at 11:11 am

Thank you, Sandra! My Mom was very innovative like that – ready with a cute answer for just about anything, all wrapped in love and smiles. You know, a few years ago, when Sury brought one of his colleagues who was visiting his institute from the US, something amazing happened. He’s Sury’s peer, which put him in his forties at the time. When Sury introduced him to my Mom, he recognized her as his teacher from school. Oh, what a moment it was! I’ll never forget it. Yes, her students adored her and remember her fondly!
Vidya Sury recently posted…Mindfulness for Moms

themoonstone April 20, 2016 at 3:21 pm

Lovely post as usual Vidya ! And I loved your mom’s ‘Do-nothing’ class and now I know that where you inherited your genes from 🙂
themoonstone recently posted…Purposeless on Purpose

Rachna April 22, 2016 at 11:38 am

That is really fabulous, Vids. Doing nothing is so often difficult as we are used to being engaged with something or the other at least our mobiles. I love sitting quietly and observing especially my dog or sometimes I go and sit in my balcony watching the world go by. It is so refreshing. And I do cherish silence. I need to find some peace and quiet after being surrounded by noise and chaos.


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