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January 5, 2015

confusion“What should I do now?
What should I do about that?
How can I fix this?”

Common questions.

Every day, I have some of the above thoughts. In fact, it just happened a moment ago, which is what gave me the inspiration for this blogpost.  I’d just finished a task at the computer, so I got up, walked over to the window, and wondered what to do next.  I noticed the music on my music stand (“oh, I’d like to practice today…”), and then I remembered a list of alternative possible activities in quick succession (“I could go swimming, go for a walk, do more computer work, sit down and do some strategic planning, etc., etc.). Within just a few seconds, I noticed that I was starting to feel overwhelmed from all the choices in front of me. (I hadn’t yet planned out my day – that was one of the options!)

So I paused.

I suddenly realized that I wanted to write a blogpost about doing nothing. So, that’s what I’m doing.

Why is this worthy of a blogpost, you might wonder?

Because it represents a common problem we have in our society, characterized by having too many choices, lack of clarity about our priorities, and a sense that we need to DO SOMETHING about it. And what is this “it” we think we need to do something about?  Any situation that we perceive as a PROBLEM.  It has become a habit to think that there is something wrong, something that needs to change, something that needs to be improved upon.

But what if everything were perfect just as it is in this exact moment, right now, full of its perceived imperfections? What if we could just accept the infinite richness of this full moment, without needing to rush off to the next moment? What if we could give ourselves a few extra moments to just BE in this moment, experiencing our life as it is right now, instead of running away from it, or trying to fill it up with something that isn’t there, appreciating that it is already full of what IS here?

As I stood there a few minutes ago, becoming aware of the insidious feeling of overwhelm creeping up on me, I remembered my very first Alexander lessons, many years ago.

At the time, I had a definite tendency towards perfectionism (well, in all honesty, I still have that tendency!) — I wanted to GET IT RIGHT….NOW!  I brought a list of questions to every lesson which my teacher graciously addressed every time I came in, by taking a calm look at them and thoughtfully remarking on each one…and then the list was set aside.

His answers were always helpful, but there was one answer that really stood out, and which kept coming up, again and again.

Whenever I asked, “What should I do?”,
his answer was some form of, “First, do Nothing.”

This perplexed me until we started our Alexander work of the day. Which consisted of…nothing. But, the best kind of nothing. It was a nothing that was full of everything.

glacier parkIt was peaceful, quiet, rich, calm, interesting, lively, engaged, and….perfect.

This nothingness gave me immense satisfaction, and it makes me smile even now as I write this, remembering those magical moments when I first discovered the Alexander Technique.

I often tell my students, “I am teaching you how to do nothing – better.”  Which isn’t really true, of course. I mean, how can you do nothing better?!  Nothing is just nothing.

And yet… we aren’t very good at doing nothing. Maybe it’s not even possible. But it’s the thought that counts. And wondering about it. And stopping…pausing…just enough to glimpse the possibility of less doing…and more nothing.

It really is the hidden treasure at the end of the rainbow…

Why not try it, right now? Why not stop for a moment, and pause, wondering how to do nothing?

The trick is, you can’t DO it… but you can UN-DO, or NOT-DO what you are doing – at least, you can give up doing what is unnecessary.  And you can wonder what that might be, without reacting to the idea that you have no idea what you’re supposed to be doing.

“But what am I supposed to do?”

“First, do nothing.”

And watch, and wonder, and notice… See what happens!

Choices arise up out of that fertile void. They do themselves. It’s true. It happens. It’s nothing short of miraculous at times.

I wasn’t writing in my blog because I didn’t know what to write about, and because the time wasn’t right. But, all of a sudden, when I stopped and noticed, the material arose and brought me here.

See where stopping will take you. You might be surprised.

Let us know! I’d love to hear about your experiences! And if you need a bit of extra help, check this out: http://www.donothingfor2minutes.com/

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*Question Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Glacier National Park Image courtesy of kancp26 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Alexander Technique, alexander technique cincinnati, Awareness, consciousness, focus, wellness

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  1. Excellent article! Even though meditation is not “doing nothing,” in a big way it is exactly that. Often times I get my best ideas and inspirations while trying to be completely silent of mind. It’s when we quiet our self-created chaos that our intuition and guidance can finally have a chance to be heard!

  2. Thanks for your comment, David. I agree with you completely. There are so many ways to meditate, but all of the ways that I’m familiar with include a clearing of the mind-body of its usual clutter so that life (inner and outer) can be seen with more clarity. Just like meditation, the Alexander Technique concept of “Non-Doing” is also not exactly “doing nothing”, because it is a deliberate practice of intention.

  3. Thank you for this inspiring article, Jennifer. Yes, there’s actually nothing(!) I “have” to do, unless I choose to. (Or, as an aside and even more challenging: to want, what I have to) This insight was lifechanging for me many years ago – and every time I think about it, read or hear it somewhere, even teach it, it somehow seems like a compleatly new, fascinating insight to me. I think this shows how strong my habit of “having to get it done/right/you name it” still is, but in between I find growing personal freedom.

    Daniel 🙂

    1. Yes, I strongly remember the sense of not having to do anything from my very first AT lesson, and what a huge relief it was. I now offer the words, “I don’t have to do anything,” as a “magic phrase” to my students that they can use anytime. I always find it helpful to remember this, like you do. Thanks for commenting!

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