Doing and not-doing—it’s the question for me just now. There is nothing that I must do, except the obvious things of living: cooking, eating, feeding the cats, taking care of the house. Simply living. Above that, there is no command, no need to plan courses or put out office hours, no meetings or deadlines.
Is it possible to live this way? Is a person worthwhile if she does nothing, allows time to pass, lets the world go by, has no ambition, is not striving for the next thing? It’s not likely that I’ll want to do nothing all the time, but there seems something vital about learning how. It’s a feeling of letting go in the place just above my navel and below my ribs, letting go of the threads of responsibility that have been perpetually knotted there.
Letting go of the illusion that I am necessary—that’s the big one. The feeling, both pleasurable and binding, that I am needed as a part of the fabric of an institution, that there are things I must do, or else. If I am not needed, then who am I?
To contemplate doing nothing, I sit in my rocker and look out at the sugar maple in front of my house, the buckled bark and sturdy limbs. The maple needs to sip water from the earth and do its metabolism, those are basic. The deep green leaves are not ambitious to be anywhere else than on the branches they are tethered to. The whole tree sits there, no tension in its belly, no plans.
I watch the lightly moving leaves. The strings in my belly go slack, I breathe. Then a moment later I am caught up again—what about that volunteer position? Do I need to do anything to prepare for group? Let go again. Nothing needs doing. I can sit here and be. The world will keep turning and churning. I can be all right without doing a thing.
I breathe and let be. Time passes, the wind picks up or dies down, the leaves rustle or become still, the sun moves a bit in the morning sky. My thoughts skitter to things around the house, the roof that needs patching, the dishes unwashed.
What is the necessity so huge that it must always be served? What beast is this that demands total devotion? Not enough to do the necessary things, this beast requires attention at every instant of the waking day. Plan. Think. Look ahead. Don’t stop. Keep busy, if not in body at least in mind.
If you don’t, you might realize how short life is. If you don’t, you might feel the poignancy of it. If you stop thinking, you might simply be alert to the world as it is. This would make the beast very angry.