THE COLUMN

Issue No. 69/June 1, 1996


DOING NOTHING

IVAN HOFFMAN

I seem to get the most done when I do nothing. On the other hand, when I try to do something I get the least accomplished. When I do nothing, everything is effortless. When I try to do anything, doing everything is a struggle.

When I say that I am doing nothing, it does not mean that I am not doing anything. I am at those times doing a great deal. It just seems as though I am doing nothing because everything that I am doing is effortless, simple, and uncomplicated. It all seems self-evident, apparent, obvious. When I am doing nothing, I do not have to try. When I try to do something, however, it's all a push.

We do not grow by sitting in our beds, waiting out our destiny. Some would say that that may be our destiny, to sit in our beds. Perhaps it is that everything that is going to happen to us is going to happen to us no matter what we do, or do not do. Therefore, the theory goes, it is acceptable to be passive in our lives, much like this sentence is in the passive voice. Grammatically incorrect but necessary to make the point.

But since we cannot know whether or not there is anything called destiny, or fate, or whether or not we have free will or are simply products of that destiny or fate, I choose a different approach to growth. My approach, the approach that I have evolved over my lifetimes, tells me instead of being passive in our lives, we must instead take an active hand in our destinies. It is up to us to create the energies, the events of our lives. It is up to us to create the engines of our lives. It is up to us to put those energies out into the universe. Then, and this is the key, then we must let them go. By creating the energies and then letting them go, we allow God to step in. Then we must learn to listen, to observe. Then we must learn to do nothing.

When we create those energies and turn them over to the universe, what we are doing is allowing the universe then to use those energies as the means by which we evolve. In so doing, it offers us the opportunity to fulfill our destinies. My growth has come from the way in which I have responded to the way that the universe has reacted to the energies I have created in the first place. Rather than staying committed to a particular result from what I have created, by letting go of that commitment and being willing to go with whatever the universe has in mind for me, I have been able to see opportunities where none may have previously existed.

This is the difference between control and trust. Control is about coercing the result into the box of expectation we have envisioned. Trust is about letting the universe tell us what to do with the same result. Control is about trying to do something. Trust is about doing nothing. It is the difference between making something happen and letting something happen.

Doing nothing is one of our choices. We are doing nothing when we accept the choices made for us by the universe and are willing to let go of our need to control the outcome. Doing nothing is the same as following our hearts for it is in our hearts that the universe tells us what to do and how to respond. When we do nothing we are actually doing only those things that are part of the essence of our being, things that come from the heart and not the head. In Tao this is conduct that is not forced, that is natural and harmonious under the circumstances. And because we are acting in such harmony, we get a great deal done by doing nothing. In the ancient, mystical language of "hippie," spoken only by certain age groups several decades ago, this same ideas was referred to as "going with the flow." (If absolutely necessary, you may add the word "man" to the end of that phrase--but only if absolutely necessary!)

On the other hand, when it appears I am trying to control the end result, it is like I am going against that flow. I feel like I am pushing a heavy stone uphill. When I get attached to those end results, when I try to control those results no matter what the response may be from the universe, it is like I am acting against my heart. It feels as though I am running contrary to what the universe has in mind for me. At such times, I am more in my head than in my heart. I get nothing done when I live my life in this way. Everything is frustrating and painful.

Would I end up in the same place no matter what I did? Would my destiny be the same whether I did everything or nothing? I certainly have no answers to those unanswerable questions.

Besides, I have too much to do to try to answer them. I prefer to do nothing.

© 1996 Ivan Hoffman

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