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An uncommon answer

Posted by Simon Parke, 23 April 2019, 2.14pm

‘What should I do to be happy?’

It’s a common question and the uncommon answer is:

‘Do nothing.’

Mmmm….this doesn’t go down well.

It’s a disappointing proposal…not to irritating. We have answers to find.

So we nod politely and ignore.

‘Yeh, right.’

After all, striving is self-help’s second name.

Ours is a solutions-based culture in which we need to find solutions, to be doing more to be well, not less.

‘How can doing less work? I’m doing a six-week training course to fix me. I’m taking back control!’

Endless striving is available at a wide range of outlets.

Though the shock of doing nothing, experiencing absence – and I can feel my body tense at the thought of it – might be the better way.

It may be an awkward reunion, of course:

‘Hello nothing, my old friend.’

‘Old friend? Huh! You’ve been avoiding me! I mean, how many of my calls left unanswered?!’

‘I know, I know.’

‘So do I!’

‘But, well – here I am…have you got a moment?’

When we do nothing, when we experience the absence of distraction, we notice things.

We may start by noting our panic.

When I worked in a supermarket, we kept a two minute silence in the store at 11.00am on November 11th.

The first minute was really difficult, people felt angry at having to stop, feeling for their phones to check they were still alive, getting out shopping lists, trying to find
distraction, checking the dates on the coleslaw.

Gaunt-eyed panic in the aisles.

But the second minute, it was different. It was as if people submitted to the silence, to the stillness, to the nothing…and actually began to enjoy it.

When we do nothing, when we experience the absence of distraction, we sit for a wonderful moment with our own canvass, without other people’s colours splashed onto it; without other people’s graffiti or other people’s noise.

And somehow, we’re still alive, still breathing… more conscious even?

And we might now notice other feelings.

Perhaps an anger emerges…or a gratitude…

Or perhaps we notice the buckled gate post which looks bent and tired, like we feel.

The world starts to speak now our canvass is blank, now there’s space; now we can receive.

And we’ll notice things amid absence which may surprise, shock, delight or beguile us.

We’ll certainly inhabit our body more consciously, aware of our breathing… and our body is a bit of a wonder.

We may even inhabit our life more consciously, without other people’s graffiti scrawled across our existence.

(Other people’s graffiti can really leave a mess, and it’s hard to remove.)

And perhaps a vague sense of non-existence (we don’t like to consider this) is replaced by a tentative or bubbling, ‘I am!’

These things can happen.

We’re not ‘taking back control’ or any needy talk like that.

Instead, we’re simply facing a fundamental fear, the fear of no thing, the fear of absence - from which we will walk away quite free.

Free to be ourselves rather than a canvass for others.

We can never be in control, that’s a myth…and giving this up is sweet freedom.

From no thing, some thing.

The freedom to be.

And nothing is one of the paths there.

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