Doing and Not-Doing

Lying on the hammock this morning, feeling glum again, still, about my condition of not-doing, in constraint of limited time between breakfast and treatment, and Osnat using the computer, and despondency over the injunction earlier delivered by Dr. Ravi against expending too much energy or trying to do too much, yet feeling the innate urge to do, or maybe just the habitual and egoistic desire to fill the void of non-being (or the void of mere being) with my usual addictive and obsessive busyness of doing, project after project, distraction upon procrastination, Dr. Ravi appears and, sensing uncannily my mood in my black fleece, walks over to ask how I am doing.

“Having a hard time with not doing,” I say, reprising a familiar theme.

“Yes, that is the training here, isn’t it?” He lays a soft hand on my shoulder. “And events [he’s surely referring to my computer crash the week before] have a way of reinforcing the lessons we are here to learn.”

“That’s what everyone is telling me, but not what I feel in here,” I whine, tapping my chest.

“Yes, and that is the problem with some yoga teachers too. They know what they need to learn, but they only know it up here, in the head, and not through experience. This is what we need to learn, through our own experience, feeling it. This is the training.”

Doesn’t help my mood; in fact I stew throughout the three-hour treatment, though the dara starts to settle me down and the shiradara is designed to quiet my mind. Still I come out disgruntled, until a discussion over lunch with Osnat settles the impasse in my mind. I’m stuck between this advice from the spiritual side to be at home with not-doing, and the Western side nagging at me that to be successful, to express my individuality, I need to persist with discipline and effort – to write more, to edit, to work on my websites, to polish and promote, to practice and refine, to compete in the marketplace and fulfill my highest potential. To achieve.

So I wind up, once again, stuck between what I have chosen to fill my time with – an unproductive situation, in the conventional sense – and the habitual desire, the egoic insistence, the self-identification with “work.”

Which is the real, the true, the authentic, the highest me?

Osnat comes up with the solution of the middle path.


Along the way a number of ironies and paradoxes surface…

There is this dichotomy in meditation practice, for instance, that to do the practice, itself, is a form of doing. All these trips to the cave or the ashram in Tiru, just things to do. Filling my blank space of time here by doing yoga or sitting in silence, more forms of doing spiritual practice.

In contrast to my glum and constrained “non-doing” of the morning in the hammock, however, I find a different feeling in not-doing in the afternoon, after lunch: choosing to bask in the sun on the edge of the porch. There is a doing in this choosing, this excercise of freedom, so that in this case the not-doing feels good, balanced, fulfilling.

In the momentary chosen relaxation, there is peace and satisfaction. Another form of voluntary deprivation, however, led me to feel trapped. This month’s stay at the Ayurvedic ashram, which in the treatment room with its barred window felt like a prison, is freely chosen. But in its length and context of limitations (same food, limited exercise, advice to do less, lack of available activities and diversions) the retreat feels galling after a while, even though I have chosen to be here for the duration. I have forced myself, in effect, to undergo this “training” for a certain effect, so in this sense I have imprisoned myself for that effect. This too can be seen as an overall kind of doing: the doing of punishment for being unhealthily human; the doing of penance for my former excess of busyness; the doing of deprivation like the monk in sackcloth, ashes, and whip.


Doing and non-doing are both subject to extremes. In the Buddhist conception, the doing mind keeps busy being pushed and pulled by desires and aversions; or in contrast, it becomes immobilized in non-doing – not the meditative space of freedom, but the cantankerous or merely inert states of doubt, or “sloth and torpor.” My own history of compulsive busyness carries with it the down side of the addictive high – procrastination, laziness, sleep. Instead of the free and full action I wish for all the time, my indulgent quest leads me to overdo, and to overreact to its opposite conditions: constraint, limitation, restriction, repression, deprivation of all kinds, and the natural karma of fatigue and sickness.

Weaving through these extremes is a gentler path symbolized by moon energy, the feminine principle, yin. The moon represents in this role not the polar opposite to the sun in terms of pure non-doing vs. pure doing, but rather a path of gentle moderation and balance instead of a path of extremes. The yang way can fall into excess on either end of the scale: materialism, or spiritual materialism; alpha-male achievement, or fanatical self-denial. The moon way is the middle way of grace and forgiveness; of gentler doing, relaxed non-doing. In this state the choice remains free to do or not to do, as required by circumstances, or suggested by natural changes in mood and readiness, alternating organically. Instead of following an urge to change one’s circumstances or even one’s character by concerted action, or by a program of non-action, one’s self and one’s circumstances can be accepted as they are, with allowance for the ongoing potential to do or not do according to the flow of the moment, and the larger moment in the cycle of one’s life and the life of the world.


Of course, all this stewing about doing and non-doing can also be considered so much hamster-wheeling by the ego – that image supplied via the perceptive awareness of fellow blogger Sally Ross, who has also been known to echo the silencing query of the great non-dual sage, Ramana Maharshi. Who is the doer, who is the non-doer? Who is asking the question? Who am “I”?

Dr. Ravi chimes in with an impromptu sermon during massage treatment, answering my persistent complaint about not doing enough.

“Krishna is all about doing. Krishna said if you are a doer you must be with a partner who is also a doer. Life, though, in this world is all about doing anyway; there’s no way around it. So the question becomes, what is the purpose of the doing? It’s a matter of making the steps go up, to a higher purpose. What steps of doing are we taking, to go up, to lift ourselves and others higher?”


  1. Rabbitfoot Raye…outlaw name 9 February 2012 10:14 pm

    Hi Nowick…

    Nowick: it’s all words …The power of words is rocking your boat…Your doing and not-doing mind is using words as a scalpel to dissect momentary experience and give you an autopsy while you are still perfectly alive….The practice is tedious for no good reason. Pretend you can not understand a word they are saying..they are chirpping like birds…better yet, they are drum beats you hear as a voice. Without words to battle over…or beat yourself up with, you’d be FREE of the conflict…Use words differently:
    write a poem to someone for Valentine’s Day and keep your head out of it…just speak your heart.
    Love Ya…

  2. admin 9 February 2012 10:22 pm

    True enough, RR! “autopsy while alive” – that nails it. Thanks for suffering my word-therapy… and sharing from your heart. ; )

  3. Rae Wiseman 5 August 2012 6:19 pm

    How do we get over that western mindset of always having to be productive and accomplished? Why aren’t I experiencing the warmth of the sun instead of simmering in my own dark, existential anxiety? Maybe it’s the wish to be content that is dragging us down. Could we possibly be content to be discontent? Unfulfilled? Meaningless?

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