On Doing Nothing

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There’s a new app being touted on Facebook that produces a reaction in me. Its called Calm – “doing nothing for 15 seconds”. Now we need an app to facilitate meditation and “calm”. Having been a meditator for over 40 years I don’t need an app to assist me in entering into a meditative place. I realize many may need that assistance and that is okay and yet there is a danger in relying on a software application to introduce “a calm” state.

Doing nothing is an oxymoron.

There is an inherent illusion within the advertising of “Calm” – of doing nothing for 15 minutes. First there’s an illusion that it’s possible to “do nothing” (its an oxymoron). How do we define or describe the state of “doing nothing” The authors of the app may define it as the absence of outer motor activity or inner thinking: stop talking, walking, performing tasks, solving problems, thinking of the past or future etc. It would seem that any app touting a state of calm would introduce intermediary experiences and / or media to induce associations of calmness – videos of nature or photos of nature with audio that introduces sounds in nature that may produce a calming state as in rain, waves, surf or that which generates white noise. [Aside: White noise whether occurring naturally in sounds of nature such as in rain, waves, waterfalls, streams or artificially produced in static fuzz elicits calm, a pleasant diffusing state of the mind, and may block pain receptors in the brain.] Media that promotes calming experiences induces slower brain waves associated with peaceful states. Relying on an app can only take the person so far and may be a good introduction to relaxation of the body, mind, emotions and spirit. But can we really “do-nothing”?

We live in a “do-do” world of tasks etc.

Media is the go-between between the human and a deeper state of relaxation – a good first step…

In our “do-do” world of non-stop tasks there are layers of illusions between being and doing. Even in states of being there are always some conscious doings. Human beings cannot ever completely stop doing. There is only one exception to our “do-do” world where the effects of “nothing” could be experienced (abet indirectly). In the world of the autonomic nervous system in the human body there are countless “doing” tasks that fly under our radar. Breathing is one. Most of the time we are not aware that we are breathing. Dipping into the meditative space is a good example of bringing awareness to an autonomic function of breathing either through direct control or via the witness state of observation.

The authors of the Calm app are defining “nothing” as the absence of outer activity which includes social intercourse, and all the do-do stuff we do with our minds in managing our lives in various contexts: relationships, problem solving and the majority of thinking. As a long time meditator I know there is never a time where the mind or my being is doing nothing. My mind becomes quieter, and in the deepest of meditative states there is a release of the do-do world and emotions that elicits a sense of beingness.

Nothing is a word that symbolizes a mind blowing and/or a state of obliteration.

When I was a child my father would take my sister and I to church. To pass the time in the endless and meaningless rituals of kneeling, sitting and standing my mind would play games some of which were funny – at least to me.

There was one game I played which felt like flirting with insanity:

“If there wasn’t a me, what would there be?” Game.

If there wasn’t a me, what would there be? Think back to being a baby, imagine it. Being in the womb, being before the womb. It wasn’t just saying these incantations, it was imagining what these things would be like.

I’d reach of brink of not being able to conceive of anything (this a reductive description of a larger incomprehensible state and was the brink of non-sanity or insanity).

“Okay, bring yourself back. Its okay, you’re okay. I’m me. Calm down. Bring yourself back. Calm down I’m me, here in church with them.”

I never shared this experience with anybody until Honors English in my senior year in High School. A classmate said I was trying to experience “nothing”. He was right.

Giving a word to the experience destroyed its power. I had a word that was an intermediate. It was a symbol of the experience. All words symbolize our experiences for the purpose of sharing them and they are reductive.

Words destroy the larger mystery.

In my work as a shaman I would occasionally “take a trip to the void.” To take a trip to nowhere is a conundrum in and of itself.

I asked a friend who does similar work if she had ever been to the void.

 

“I go there all the time,” she said.

 

That was so surprising.

 

“What do you experience there?”

 

“God,” she said.

 

“I don’t think you went to the void,” I said.

 

“Why?” She asked.

 

“People that go there experience – nothing.”

 

The difficulty in writing about going to the void is ludicrous. There is preparation to go. Going. Returning and the effects.

 

Many shaman who “go there” return and some are catatonic as a result.

 

When “I” have gone there I lose myself, my sense of “I”. I really don’t know that I have been there because there’s no “I” to experience the void. I forget that I have been there, like a blackout.

The only reason I can deduce that I have been “there” is the effects I feel upon return. I feel that all of the superfluous parts or my ego have been stripped away. I feel clean of attachments for a short time. Hours or a day at most until “my stuff” returns. And there is a residual experience of having been cleansed.

Going to the void could be the closest experience of “nothingness” that I may have experienced. And I don’t know that I have.

Very funny and incredibly sacred simultaneously.

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Text of the Facebook message regarding the Calm App. Apple’s App of the Year”

 

Doing nothing is impossible he saz throwing a wrench into it. Stop motor activity, okay – got it. But when the mind churns on – that’s not doing nothing. Focusing on peaceful scenes is not doing nothing. I suppose the closest one can get on doing nothing is meditation, focusing on the breath, letting go of thoughts, feelings as they arise. -But its not nothing. The only nothing is a shaman practice of “going” to the void (lol) where upon return from said “place” all that is superfluous is stripped away. Experiencing nothingness is egolessness and ineffable

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