The Goal (Maybe)
As part of the ongoing examination and learnings around happiness, the question of “nothing” came up. What is nothing? What does nothing mean to happiness?
I don’t think that “nothing” is absolute, it is more about the burden of something. If we had nothing to do at all would we be happy? There are things we must do but could we minimize these things? If we took care of those things and had less to do is that a goal? Why do we work with the intent to retire? Retirement may not mean “nothing” to do but it also may mean “nothing of burden.”
In retirement, we still have some “things” but maybe we have at least the idea or perception that we are more in command of those things. We would still seek to attain less burden and more time for things of our own interest.
If we had nothing and our overall goal was nothing, it is likely that we wouldn’t be happy with that either. If we are consumed by things and weighed down, it also may mean that we don’t have time to discover joy or happiness. Why do people run away from things?
What about love? What about finding time to love yourself? In nothing, we may find ourselves creating some things. In the creation of things, we must discover and learn. The discovery process could help us learn about ourselves and come to understand ourselves.
What if achieving everything is still achieving nothing? As I have read recently about happiness, all roads lead me to consider what is going on “now.” All of the major religions and philosophies have a lot to say about mindfulness and being present in the moment. Many teach about meditation which is something but also nothing.
In a recent yoga experience, the instructor said “You don’t have anything you need to do and you can’t do anything wrong.” For that moment, there is nothing. The phone may ring, the kids may yell, the spouse may call but you don’t have to do anything. When I first started yoga, the instructor also asked me to place my hand on my chest and just breathe. She had me laying on the ground, just taking air in and resting my hand. This action alone with nothing else to do had tears welling up in me. I didn’t understand at the time why I felt so emotional and uncomfortable. She said, that we do all these things and forget the simple things in life. Breath is life and breathing is something we have but we don’t have to work for it, it is always there. There is no unnatural action to take but you must clear your calendar and make time for it.
In a 2012 Forbes article “Lead By Achieving Nothing. Seriously” they talk about the same thing. This was 2012, here we are in 2022 and we are learning that people have had enough.
Wu wei means – in Chinese – non-doing or ‘doing nothing’. It sounds like a pleasant invitation to relax or worse, fall into laziness or apathy. Yet this concept is key to the noblest kind of action according to the philosophy of Daoism – and is at the heart of what it means to follow Dao or The Way. According to the central text of Daoism, the Dao De Jing: ‘The Way never acts yet nothing is left undone’. This is the paradox of wu wei. It doesn’t mean not acting, it means ‘effortless action’ or ‘actionless action’. It means being at peace while engaged in the most frenetic tasks so that one can carry these out with maximum skill and efficiency. Something of the meaning of wu wei is captured when we talk of being ‘in the zone’ – at one with what we are doing, in a state of profound concentration and flow.
The idea of non-doing is certainly complex but something I believe we should think about as we consider what may bring more happiness in our lives.
What do you think? Do you think that people are leaving jobs today because they are thinking the same things? Do you think that this is what is driving people to change their lives dramatically?