I don’t know about you but I’ve been reading a lot about the subject of ‘doing less’ and ‘not knowing’ lately. Not from people who are writing about it for writing’s sake, but people who have actually experienced it for themselves.
I’ve experienced it for myself, too. I’ve been someone who ‘does’ for as long as I can remember and have written plenty about this, in my search for understanding. Up until a year ago, my motto was always ‘don’t put off tomorrow what you can do today’. I like to achieve and I know I’m not the only one. Whenever I’m in the company of ambitious women, they all, of course, like to achieve. I even noticed this morning that my yoga mat says ‘Carpe Diem’ on it (Seize The Day). Oh dear.
The thing is, I never knew any different. No one explained that there was a different way of doing things. And with the spread of smartphone technology, of course we’re getting worse at it, not better. We want to do and we want to know and we don’t know how to ‘be’. All the time.
I spoke to a client of mine today who I knew was at home sick (from being overworked) and when I asked him how he was, he replied that he was “pretty horrendous, but I don’t want the emails piling up”. Isn’t that awful? There’s no escape.
Or is there? It’s only with knowledge and education on the subject that the cracks (in our armour) are finally beginning to show. People are searching for answers and I believe that some of them lie in the art of not doing and not knowing. So if you’re keen to learn more, read on.
You see the concept of doing less to achieve more takes every bit of our brainpower to work out. And therein lies the problem. What we’re talking about here requires no brainpower at all. Here, we’re talking about the brain needing a rest. Not a sleeping rest (which also seems to be a struggle for most of us nowadays), but a waking rest.
This state of tension we have in the West revolves around needing to be successful, prove ourselves, work harder, be better, know more. I could go on and on. Getting things done, crossed off the list and satisfied at the mediocre results has no doubt given me many a self-congratulatory pat on the back over the years. But 4 years ago, when I left my job of 15 years to embark upon a career change, I’d begun to take my ‘doing’ and ‘needing to know’ to a whole new level. So much so that in a session with the wonderful Body & RainbowLight therapist, Bea, from BioBea, she told me that I was trying to ‘force my future’ so strongly into fruition that it was becoming hugely destructive to my entire being. And to top it off, she told me that this approach would never, ever work! Whilst she was often asked to clear people’s past (yes, this can be done), she told me she’d never had to clear someone’s future before.
It was at that point it finally dawned on me that it was time for a shake up (and a slow down). And whilst I still feel guilty when I’m not achieving something, I am getting better. On a short break to Spain this weekend with an old friend, she was marvelled at my ability to sit around the pool all day. She’d never, ever, seen me to that before and couldn’t believe the change in me. I felt I’d reached a milestone in my education! I’ve also found that writing about the subject from different perspectives, depending on how I feel and what I am learning through experience, is also further aiding my recovery from ‘doing’ to ‘being’.
Here’s a story which might help. A wealthy couple go on holiday abroad. They stay in a beautiful hotel. They do amazing activities every day. They dine on the best seafood, drink the finest wines, and read books from the New York Times bestseller list. One day the husband decides to take a wander outside the hotel complex and discovers a little village down the road called Six Men. He noticed one of the village’s fisherman down on the little beach, stretched out by his boat and began chatting to him. And after a while, asked him what he was doing.
“Nothing” said the fisherman.
“Why, are there no fish?” asked the man..
“We have plenty of fish.” replied the fisherman.
“You seem pretty switched on, so why don’t you contract with all the other fisherman to sell their fish and use your phone to get the best prices?”
“And then what?” asked the fisherman.
“You’ll make lots of money and can invest it!” said the man
“And then what?” asked the fisherman
“Well, then you can buy a lovely car and house and go travelling around the world”
“What for?” asked the fisherman
“Well, so you can relax!” said the man
“But that’s what I’m doing” replied the fisherman.
Taoism teaches us the lessons of ‘non-doing’ whilst at the same time being fully alert and conscious. Many of my mentors and teachers have told me it’s about setting your vision and then leaving it to marinade. You can’t force these things and the more you try to, the more they will allude you. You need to settle back into the ‘not knowing’ and find time to not do.
I struggled at first with what that actually entailed, but found the answer in many things. Pottering in the garden with no agenda or to-do list. Going for an amble, not a fast walk, but a meander. Painting or doing something creative is also wonderful. It doesn’t sound like it quite fits in, as it’s a ‘doing’ activity, but it’s one that allows the mind to wander in a relaxed and calm state. And there’s meditation and breathwork of course.
When the mind goes quiet, the imagination has a chance”.
I have had to learn to be alone and to let my mind wander. It’s not been easy. Yet it’s in asking people the question, as we do on Street Wisdom, “Where do you have your biggest breakthroughs” that I have had confirmed time and time again, that the answers to our problems (creative, life, work, love) are, of course, never at our desks or in the moments when we are trying our utmost to find them. Whenever I have asked this question the response has always been “in the shower”, or “on a walk by myself”, “cooking dinner” or “in the bath”. Never has it been “at my desk” or “when I was searching for it the most”. It is always when you least expect it.
And in waking up to the idea that in switching off and admitting we don’t know or don’t have the answers to everything, we realise that we are actually switching onto something far deeper, ultimately more fulfilling, satisfying, creative and profound.
One of our marvellous presenters, Laurence Shorter, author of The Lazy Guru, wrote recently on the subject of having no idea. It’s about seeing where it takes you and with the benefits you can expect from admitting you have no idea. It’s this link – between letting the mind wander and enhancing creativity – which he’ll explore in our latest talk (or it’s also available as a more in-depth workshop) for teams in agencies and organisations. We’ll cover subjects such as:
Effort vs effortlessness
An inquiry into how good things really happen
Space & Inspiration
A live experience of creative space
Shoulds & Can’ts
Understanding what gets in the way of creativity
Insights for Action
How we fill space & how to create more of it
It’s called The Art Of Having No Idea and you can check it out here.
P.S just in case you weren’t confused enough already, you need to understand that nothing happens unless you put the insights from doing less and having no idea, into action 🙂 Nothing happens without action or inertia, but let’s save that for Part II, or you’ll have the opportunity to discuss with Laurence, if you want to book this session.
Read Laurence’s post on having no idea on Medium here.