The Art Of Not Doing

When I sit down to meditate, my inner experience can best be described by what I am not doing: I am not focusing my mind or contemplating any idea. I am not in an introspective or spiritual mood. I do not count, time, or control my breaths. No effort is being made to cause certain thoughts to come or go. There is no particular feeling I try to either induce or avoid. I do not pay attention to my body in a special way or attempt to relax any part of it. If I start to fall asleep, I do not resist the impulse.

What am I doing, then? The best answer is that I am just not doing; I am engaged in getting the normal activity of the mind to turn into silence, but without coercing it to do so. I am getting past the inner noise of thoughts and feelings in order to reveal what the silent witness inside me is really like. This is how the mind naturally opens to itself and heals.

“Not doing” sounds like doing nothing at all, but there is a subtle difference. The thinking, feeling mind is in constant motion. If is has the thought “Slow down, be silent,” that is a movement, too, and will not make the mind stop. No thought can make it stop.

One might try just sitting, waiting for the mind to stop of its own accord. There are meditations of this sort in the vast tradition of Indian and Zen practice, but most novices who try this method find it extremely exhausting and unproductive.

A mind left to its own devices tends to run here and there like a drunken monkey, as the Indian scriptures say. To watch one’s mind reel around for an hour can be intensely disturbing. Moreover, there is no reason why the mind should reach silence during the vigil.

Adapted from Unconditional Life: Discovering the Power to Fulfill Your Dreams, by Deepak Chopra (A Bantam Book, 1991).

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Fi T.
Fi T.2 years ago

It's better to know when to stop

Mac C.
mac C.2 years ago

I'm not sure I meditate as you describe here, but do feel at times I come fairly close. Thank you.

Frances Darcy
Frances Darcy2 years ago

I don't think I could "not do".. The nearest iswhen praying for something very, very important, such as someone very ill...then I can focus on the prayer... but to do

Ida Gian
Ida Gian2 years ago


Carole R.
Carole R.4 years ago

Interesting. Thanks.

Kerry Stuparitz
Kerry G.4 years ago


Maria Papastamatiou

I fear I haven't quite understood how to "not do". If your mind goes around like a crazy monkey and you just let it do that, then how do you not do?

Parvez Z.
Parvez Zuberi4 years ago

Thank you for sharing

Anne Brabson
Anne B.4 years ago

The art of not doing is, for me, just that-an art! My waking hours are usually so full of doing that it can be very difficult to not do...but it is worth it and many times is attainable for me if I give it more than a few minutes andusually not more than once a day...being still while your mind wants to race can be a bit scary otherwise!

teresa mcdowell
teresa mcdowell4 years ago

thank you.