The Art of Doing Nothing

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writing from venice, italy

Being a tourist in Italy feels a tad ironic sometimes. Here we are, running around cities like Rome, Florence and Venice, crossing monuments off a checklist and seeing it all. We wake up early and then are on the move, pausing for coffee, wine and yoga (I know, my kind of trip!). The irony lies in the fact that we’re in Italy, a place where local people sit in piazzas for hours, doing absolutely nothing.

The other day, we went on a Walkabout Florence tour of Siena, the Tuscan wine country and Pisa. At our four-course meal at an organic farm, we talked to a lovely woman who writes her own travel blog and was traveling here from Mumbai. As travelers meeting upon circumstance tend to do, we discussed what we loved about this culture we were exploring firsthand for the first time.

“The Italians have truly mastered the Art of Doing Nothing,” our friend from Mumbai said.

Through yoga, I have learned about the Art of Doing Nothing. Yoga, an artistic and creative practice in itself that focuses on the process rather than the end goal…the journey rather than the destination, is a form of this art. Yet I find myself, especially when I think of my life in New York and when I was at school, continuously asking myself How??? How can people just do nothing? How can we cultivate the beauty of not being busy like the awesome-looking enjoying-life people do?

During my time in Italy, I have observed some answers to that stressed-out question:

  1. Seek out and appreciate beauty. The world is a beautiful place and all of it can be hOMe. That said, it is easy to forget the beauty of our surroundings when also in the midst of chaos and the overshadowing ugliness of pollution and destruction. That is why beauty has to be sought and found, even if we find it by stumbling upon it. See a beautiful willow tree? Pause and look up. Spot a statue that seems otherworldly? Go up to it and look closer. Go to the Peggy Guggenheim museum and see a bunch of Italian five-year-olds on a field trip? Smile and say “Bonjourno!”
  2. Sit down and become an observer. There is a Sanskrit word called mauna, which means, essentially “vow of silence.” Being an observer requires a bit of a mauna practice. Sometimes we exhale so much we forget to breathe in. We find time and space to inhale by simply Being and watching the world take shape around us and it is in that practice that we can…
  3. See smallness in the midst of grandeur. The world is not only beautiful; it is huge. Yes, we all have a vital role to play in it, but when we think we are at its center, we get stressed out. Instead, practice being one of many. Go to a market (and not a crowded supermarket; a specialty market!) and lose yourself in the crowd only to find a more peaceful version of you later.
  4. Find a public space. This last step is vital to the facilitation of Doing Nothing. Public spaces allow us to simply Be without consuming. They are the vantage points from which we can be observers and see our smallness. From public spaces – such as community gardens and the piazzas and fountains that are in abundance here, beauty can be sought out and appreciated.

Now, tell me: How will you practice the Art of Doing Nothing today? Comment, please!

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