Doing nothing is scary stuff

Photo of Margaret Cunningham and 'Dixie' on Papamoa Beach

Day 6 of lockdown (at time of writing), and to be honest, my personal panic button is on high alert.

I have exercised madly, or should I say, madly exercised – both would be correct – I have cleaned, re cleaned, and re re-cleaned my house, baked and test trialed new recipes to the point my family is clearly becoming suspicious in a ‘we want you to take the first bite’, kind of way. And today the dog hid from me when I mentioned the ‘walk’ word.  Clearly I am not doing lockdown well.

My panic is completely irrational. Our household bubble of three adults, no parenting required, is comfortable. We have everything we need. What a great time to relax. To read a book. Be creative. To write. To be still. Instead I find myself being busy, in a super-human way, completing an array of inane, and completely unnecessary tasks.

It’s not the lockdown I’m terrified of. Nor is it relaxation. It’s the opportunity that scares me, the opportunity to be still – to do absolutely nothing.  I’m frightened of what may be discovered in the ‘nothing’ of doing nothing. I’m avoiding the ‘truth’ that may reveal itself in the stillness and quiet.

I’m not surprised I have this panic tussle going on – taking time out to be still, which was a big part of my life, has taken a back seat to a self-imposed busyness. And deep down I’ve felt what I call, ‘a spiritual nudging’ over this; a brief nudge, before I quickly brush it away.

I think we all become habitually busy. The hustle and bustle of the outside world touches everyone. Men, women and children – we’re always on, always connected, talking, always doing. There is little space left for stillness. There’s just so much going on and being still is not what we’re used to.

I have always had a reflective personality and treasured my moments of stillness. It has set the mood for some magical moments of insight and wonder.  But the noise of ‘busy’ somehow snuck in and filled the space I used to sit quite comfortably in. And even though I’ve been doing this reflective thing for a while, even though I know the beauty that lies within it, it still amazes me how much I still avoid, or put off, taking time out for stillness. This conflict is quite a mystery to me.

Stillness is not the same as relaxing – the two are quite different. Relaxation can be quite busy. For some people lockdown is an opportunity to relax and be creative, start/finish a project, read a book or learn something new. But they all require an element of ‘doing’. Stillness, on the other hand, requires doing absolutely nothing. It’s not what you bring to the table – not meditation, or prayer, or brainstorming, or problem-solving. Just you – simply being.

What happens in the ‘stillness’ is beyond my control? I think that’s why I’ve been avoiding it so much. Busy helps me feel in control. And sometimes my own space on the inside is a very vulnerable, exposing place to be. Who am I without my busyness? A question that can only be answered in the silence and stillness within my own soul.

Anything that denies the human spirit of refreshment is ‘busy,’ and the busier you are the more important it is to be still. I’ve been racing about the place as though my energy is endless. If I’m not doing something then it feels like I’m not being productive. To do nothing is often thought of as being lazy or weak, but the reality is, we all need moments of ‘stillness’ or ‘nothing’ in our life. I read somewhere that doing nothing with be the most productive activity you will ever undertake. How did I forget this?

We are all searching for that one thing. It’s what drives our busyness.
Today, as the panic recedes and I reconnect again with my ‘one thing’, I am reminded of a Mother Theresa quote,

“We need to find God, and He cannot be found in noise and restlessness. God is the friend of silence. See how nature—trees, flowers, grass—grows in silence; see the stars, the moon and the sun, how they move in silence. We need silence to be able to touch souls.

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