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The Do Nothing Technique

Time: 3 minutes to 5 minutes.
Posture: Lying down or sitting.
When: Anytime

Sit or lie down and just allow your mind to do its thing. Your aim is to tolerate being there without trying to control anything. If you can do this, congratulate yourself. Take yourself to lunch. Your path in meditation is going to be pretty simple.

Let your attention go anywhere it wants to. You can think about sex, your to-do lists, movies, nothing, everything.

Notice where your mind goes. The only thing that makes this even vaguely seem like a meditation is that you have given yourself a timeframe of three to five minutes.

This exercise helps you overcome technique-itis, which is the notion that there is something to be afraid of or that the human mind somehow has to be controlled even when you are resting. Technique-itis is mildly contagious and tends to last for ten to fifteen years, or until you give up on meditation forever.

To develop an immunity to technique-itis, simply Do Nothing and tolerate whatever your body and mind do. You want to be in the state that you are in when you are about to fall asleep. The mind is just drifting. You need to find out if you can take it, take whatever happens if you release control.

You will learn to experience your natural state, without doing anything to it. People are usually slightly ashamed of themselves, and do “techniques” to themselves to “improve” themselves. Years later, they are still doing gadgetry to themselves, and often nothing has changed.

Tip: It’s OK if you can’t tolerate doing nothing, but this is where you start from.

Variation #1: Close your eyes and pretend you are taking a nap only you don’t have to fall asleep. It is a conscious nap. You can make things very cozy. You can make a fire in the fireplace and wrap yourself in a blanket and just look at the fire. Or you can lie down. If you fall asleep and have a real nap, no problem. Just do the exercise when you wake up.

What’s different about this exercise than being a couch potato? You are intentionally doing nothing. You do not even have to approach meditation as a technique, although you are free to. Notice what your attitudes are, and do not defend yourself against anything. Whether you are reverent, irreverent, bored, happy, tired, excited, welcome it all. You cannot fail.

TIP: If you have a lot of noise in your head you may find yourself wanting to take action in some form -- clean up your room or clean up your act. All that “noise” or mental rehearsal is not a problem and is not to be resisted. Your brain needs to do it.

TIP: If you find yourself afraid of keeping yourself company, and a certain percentage of people are, then make sure to do things at your own pace. You could begin by only meditating in places you feel really safe, whether that is your room, church or temple, the beach, a movie theater between movies.

Variation #2: Pray and then meditate. You could say your favorite prayers to create an atmosphere of safety, and then let go and Do Nothing.

Tip: Some people run into tremendous guilt when Doing Nothing. The exercise directly challenges their work ethic, and fear of nothingness. Many people have been unable to “work this” through. It is simple, though — if you feel bad for doing nothing, just keep coming back and facing the feeling directly, and eventually you will win. The problem with not clearing out this feeling is that doing nothing is part of resting. Such people tend to work to exhaustion and then drop. Or they have to drink or smoke to get into rest. Or have sex as an escape rather than just for fun or love. Lots of people who seem to be happily meditating are tying themselves up in rules out of fear of doing nothing. They have all kinds of invisible rules and regulations.

Problem: If you have a sleep debt, doing nothing will probably put you to sleep.

Solution: Most people have at least a few hours of sleep debt. Just take naps instead of meditating, and maybe go to bed half an hour earlier for a few weeks. If you take care of it, you will feel much better, and you won’t fall asleep when you are meditating. Also, you might not get that cold that’s going around, because you won’t be so run down. You can’t learn to meditate if you are fighting sleep.

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