Practice not-doing and everything will fall into place

My favorite book by Jon Kabat-Zinn is “Wherever You Go There You Are.” That’s why I was looking forward to reading “Full Catastrophe Living” when I saw that it was available at the library. When I picked up the book at the front counter, I flipped through it while the librarian was processing the borrow.

Flipping through “Full Catastrophe Living,” I could tell that it was very different from WYGTYA. This book was written like a manual. Encouraging chapter titles, but you could immediately tell this was a different breed of book. This was an authoritative manual on how to deal with stress.

Let’s start with the fact that stress is inevitable:

“The concept of stress says that, in one way or another, we are continually faced with the necessity of adapting to all the various pressures we experience in life.” – Kabat-Zinn

So how do we begin to deal with it?

“The very first and most important step in breaking free from a lifetime of stress reactivity is to be mindful of what is actually happening while it is happening.” – Kabat-Zinn

What’s the next step?

“There is an art of facing difficulties in ways that lead to effective solutions and to inner peace and harmony. When we are able to mobilize our inner resources to face our problems artfully, we find we are usually able to orient ourselves in such a way that we can use the pressure of the problem itself to propel us through it, just as a sailor can position a sail to make the best use of the pressure of the wind to propel the boat.” – Kabat-Zinn

By facing the difficulty head-on, we move on more easily.

“You move on. The next moment will have less carryover from the preceding ones because you faced them and dealt with them when they came up. Responding mindfully to stress from moment to moment will minimize the tension that we allow to build up inside of us, thereby reducing our need to cope with the discomfort that accompanies internalized tension.” – Kabat-Zinn

What else causes stress?

“Feeling threatened can easily lead to feelings of anger and hostility and from there to outright aggressive behavior, driven by deep instincts to protect your position and maintain your sense of things being under control.” – Kabat-Zinn

So of course this is leading to mindfulness. What exactly happens when we apply mindfulness to a stressful situation?

“When you bring awareness to stressful moments, you might see more clearly how your own unbalanced view could be contributing to an inappropriate overreaction on your part, one that is out of proportion to what the actual circumstances warrant.” – Kabat-Zinn

Notice that even feelings have a beginning and an end.

“If you can be mindful at such times, if you are watching carefully, you will also notice that even these recurring images, thoughts, and feelings have a beginning and an end, that they are like waves that rise up in the mind and then subside.” – Kabat-Zinn

So all of this comes to the final point:

“Practice not-doing and everything will fall into place – Lao Tzu

Take some time to think about nothing. Take some time to do nothing. Take some time to sit around and just do nothing. Does this sound familiar? That’s exactly what meditation is – time to think about nothing, do nothing, to just sit around doing “not-doing.”

Finally I’ll end with this quote from the book. It’s my hope that by reading this blog post you’ve learned why it’s so important to do nothing. To actively pursue doing nothing. Contact me if this post had an impact on you. How do you practice not doing?

“Inner peace exists outside of time. If you commit yourself to spending some time each day in inner stillness, even if it is for two minutes, or five or ten, for those moments you are stepping out of the flow of time altogether.” – Kabat-Zinn


Author: David Neely

Professional Software Developer. Technology and Web Coordinator at the University of Hawaii's Manoa Career Center.