Jon Kabat-Zinn talks in one of his books about the difference between non-doing and doing nothing. I take him to mean that when you are being mindful you are not doing nothing. You are awake and alert to all that is in your world. It means having a state of mind that says let it be, let’s see what happens next. You are working with the grain of the wood. I really like non-doing. I seem to be getting better at stopping what I’m doing and just waiting to see what comes up. Either what comes up in my mind or in my environment that in turn prompts me to move on or stay still for longer.
I have some amazing friends and two of them, Xavier and Laura, recently let me stay in their mountain cabin for 5 days. The 4×4 metre stone cabin is in the Sierra Chiva in Valencia Province, Spain. They dropped me off at the cabin with enough food and water to keep me going. After I had unpacked everything from my bag I sat down. I sat on a chair on the veranda and looked out at the mountains, just to get to see where I was. I’d been before but that was always with other people and doing things. I sat and began to wonder what I could/ should do with myself. I’d brought my camera bag and so that was a possibility. I had even been given a map and there were plenty of trails over the mountains I could explore.
What happened was that I just sat and looked and listened. My mind went blank as to what to do. I felt it was hard to think so I just went with it. And I soon realised I was already doing whatever I needed to do. I continued to sit and listen to the silence that spread out in all directions. I prefer to call the experience tranquility, because there are sounds in nature but they are not intrusive. It is not empty total silence. I could hear a fly buzzing near me and then fading away. Then I noticed a background hum from all the thousands of bees and flies that must have been busy in the vegetation for miles around.That was it. Virtually no other sound, apart from the occasional dog barking and birdsong way off in another world.
Looking at mountains enhances the stillness. They are superb embodiments of non-doing. While life goes on all around the mountains and the weather shifts and changes they just sit there emanating solidity. At night I heard natterajck toads calling in the valley below. They sounded as if someone was running their nail along a comb. I found their eggs a few days later in the waterfilled rut of a tractor.
After lunch I sat down in the same chair and again contemplated what I should do next. I even got up and walked three metres to the end of the veranda. I felt my body tell me ‘ you have nothing to do, so go back to non-doing.’ And I did. I sat for two days until my body wanted exercise. Then I walked a hundred metres down the forest track and back. The furthest I went in all the time I was there was just over 200 metres, to an almond orchard and ruined farm in the valley bottom. While I was meandering round the ruins I felt drawn to sit under a tree for an hour before returning back up to the cabin for more idle sitting.
I came back from my Spanish trip and picked up one of Kabat-Zinn’s books on mindfulness to find him quoting Thoreau. Henry Thoreau, the famous American writer, spent just over two years in the wilderness by Walden Pond, which is not far from Boston. He said the following.
‘Sometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat on my sunny doorway from sunrise til noon, rapt in revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted noiseless through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveller’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time. I grew by these seasons like corn in the night, and they were far better than any work of the hands would have been. They were not time subtracted from my life, but much over and above my usual allowance. I realized what the Orientals mean by contemplation and the forsaking of works. For the most part, I minded not how the hours went. The day advanced as if to light some work of mind: it was morning, and lo, now it was evening, and nothing memorable was accomplished.’
As soon as I read this passage I felt a kinship with him, an understanding of what he was saying from my own recent experience in Spain. Thoreau is well known in the USA but I wonder if they realise that if they take to heart what he is telling them then he is as revolutionary as Guevara. If everyone were to follow their hearts and what their body was telling them the present mad system would collapse. For it needs people to have many fears, to always be worried for the future and to regret the past. To continually make goals to strive for and consume for compensatory pleasure.
My time in the Sierra Chiva not-doing was refreshing and relaxing at so many levels as well as stimulating to my mind. The experience urged me to do less. Today I continued non-doing by spending an hour in the wood next to where my home is, listening and watching spring unfold.