“The wise man does nothing, while the fool is always tying himself up.” – Daoxin

While giving thanks for another twirl around the Earth, I decided to start my morning in London with Zen readings. (This really means that I read a lot of quotes, koans, and stories until something sticks with me and makes me think deeply.)

When I stumbled upon the quote above, I was struck by its simplicity and deep meaning. How is the fool always tying himself up?  The answer to me is through attachments. When we become engrossed in a job, a person, certain possessions, or even our thoughts (right/wrong, good/bad, present/future, etc.), we can lose sight of the bigger picture. Our view becomes microscopic, and our entire state of being revolves around that thing. This can easily create worry and stress if we allow it. When one gets to that state, zooming out and getting back to what is natural in the moment is the best approach I find to releasing the tension we can so unnecessarily cause ourselves.

Taken literally, “doing nothing” sounds like one should lay in bed all day. While that is not always a bad idea, taken in a Zen or Taoist context, “doing nothing” means being natural. For instance, breathing is natural. We do nothing, yet the body naturally does what it needs to do by taking in oxygen to replenish our cells, and releasing carbon dioxide. The nose, mouth, lungs, diaphragm, capillaries, heart, etc. all do their individual jobs to enable our breathing, but this process occurs without our consideration. It is natural. We do not even think about it.

If we apply this to our daily life, “doing nothing” means that we do what is required in the present moment. So if hungry, eat; if tired, rest; if work is required, take immediate steps to complete. This is simple, this is natural. Postponing, delaying, and distracting ourselves from doing what is needed is a way of tying ourselves up. If we follow the natural process and complete what is needed (this can include letting go), we do not have to think about it. I think of the perfection of the Ferrari F1 Pit Stop team. Team members do only what they need to do…and each has a clearly defined role. Each person, doing exactly what is needed in the process, allows the team to reach record breaking speeds. They probably don’t think about it anymore…their assigned task has probably become so natural that it is similar to breathing. It probably feels like they are doing nothing.

<If the Ferrari team seems too obscure, let’s take an example closer to home…let us consider driving. When we first learned to drive, we focused on every nuance. The grip of the wheel, the pressure on the pedal, the precise angle of each mirror all mattered a great deal. We focused on everything and probably lingered for too long at stop signs worried that a car would appear out of nowhere. However, after many years of driving, the process of driving becomes so natural that you don’t really think about it anymore. For most, driving becomes automatic, and there is comfort in driving with one hand while listening to music and talking…where initially, complete silence and concentration were needed to feel comfortable.>

Getting back to the original point, doing nothing is meditative and natural. It is very in the moment and real. Tying oneself up in the imaginings of the mind and attachments of the body create a state of being that is unnatural and fraught with worry and pain. If we concentrate on doing what we need to do in each moment, we will find that each day takes care of itself. :)

Photo source: Dreamy Day by Ryan Addis