Sunday, November 17, 2013

Do Nothing

Rest in the Wilderness

I was always the kind of person who had a plan of action - a plan for developing my career, a plan for my family, a plan for growing the church. I even had an action-plan for my spiritual life - church, prayer, study, all on a regular basis at designated times.  And then I moved out to the desert and now I no longer have many plans. In fact I find myself relishing my new-found ability to simply "do nothing." 

I find myself spending a lot of my "doing nothing" time in my meditation garden. I just sit there in silence and bask in the moments of rising sun, swirling breezes, the bubbling fountain, the flowering bushes, the olive, fig and citrus trees, and the ever-present desert birds. 

I have never been much of a "bird person" in my life. In fact, I thought it rather odd that people would devote themselves to "bird watching." To me, it seemed like a waste of time. But ever since we moved out into the desert wideness, I have started to take notice of the birds- the many different varieties, with such unusual sounds in such an amazing array of bright desert colors. 

Yesterday as I sat in my garden "doing nothing," a family of exotic, bright red desert finches made an appearance.  I hadn't realized it but these little creatures had actually been living in the bushes right above the chair in which I usually sit. I hadn't noticed them before because they were always too shy and afraid to fly out of their nest when I was around (the fact that I often sit outside with my dogs certainly contributed to their unwillingness to show themselves). 

But yesterday they finally trusted me enough to come out of their hiding-place. As I sat perfectly still, (even my dogs sitting next to me were perfectly still),  one tiny bright-red creature perched on the nearby chair and sang for me, another sipped a drink of water at the fountain, still another swooped down and picked up some twigs for her nest.  It was a magical moment.

As I sat and watched these glorious little creatures who had come out to play, the thought came to me that they would never have mustered up enough courage to make an appearance were it not for the fact that I was just sitting there "doing nothing." 

On any given weekend, people all over the world engage in "doing something" to help get in touch with their deeper spiritual nature. Some go to a church or a temple or a mosque. They listen to sermons, say their prayers and chant their mantras. Weekends are a time for soul-searching.  

And all this is good - it's important. In fact, I'm one of those people who regularly "does something" as I engage in my soul-searching on my own spiritual journey. 

But I have also learned that, more often than not, soul-searching involves "doing nothing" - sitting quietly, watching, waiting, being attentive, being awake in the moment.

I am reminded of something Parker Palmer once said about the spiritual journey:

The soul is something like a wild animal. It will flee from the noisy crowd and seek safety in the deep  underbrush. If we want to see a wild animal we know that the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out! But if we walk into the woods quietly and sit at the base of a tree, breathing with the earth and fading into our surroundings, the wild creature may eventually show up.

So today, as usual, I will sit in my garden and engage in the spiritual discipline of "doing nothing" - maybe the beautiful tiny red birds will come out to play once again.

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  1. Absolutely, Paul. A huge amount of our spiritual life is about waiting, silently. In our culture we need to learn the power od doing nothing: we are addicted to doing.

    "I’d watch the wind in the grass and the reeds, the constantly re-forming cauliflower clouds and I would close my eyes, resting, doing nothing. It is wonderful to do nothing. If God has given me one great grace, this is it: to know that He wants me to do nothing, a lot. He has, I believe, given everyone this grace but, like silence, this gift often lies in a drawer unopened."

  2. John,

    thank you--Let's keep opening the drawer.