Nothing to Do, No Place to Go

A friend who shares my sometimes-flippant sense of humor texted me this morning:

Hey Mel, I’m going to have to cancel for coffee on Friday….

OK. Just let me know a morning that’s convenient for you.

I can make it next Friday if that works for you.

I’ll rearrange my very packed schedule to fit it in.

Retirement is tough, huh?

Awful. Nothing to do, no place to go…. Oh wait! That’s a good thing in Buddhism.

“Nothing to do, no place to go.” We hear those words often in meditation. They help us relax into the present moment. But they’re not reserved for meditation, and meditation is not reserved for the time that we sit on a cushion.

A woman with her eyes closedI’ve heard Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh many times tell the story of a friend who visited his cottage and asked to do the dishes after dinner. Nhat Hanh replied that would be OK but only if the friend washed the dishes to wash the dishes, not to get the task over with and move on to the next thing. If we’re always thinking of the next thing, we are never doing the thing we’re doing. We are never here.

My area is recovering from a blizzard, and the county has asked us all to stay off the roads to the extent possible. At 3:30 this morning, I did get out to drive my wife and her sister to Dulles Airport for a week’s vacation in Central America that they had scheduled. I returned exhausted to a house with no other human occupants, so I could sleep late and awake literally with nothing to do and no place to go.

I noticed, though, that after I exchanged texts with my friend, I felt as though I needed to rush through my morning non-yoga, which is what I call my stretching routine. I had just made a joke about doing nothing and going nowhere, and I didn’t even have a specific next task in mind, but that mind was reverting to its usual nonsense.

What’s important for me, and for all of us, is to notice. Meditation helps train our minds to notice. Once I saw the needless stress I was putting on myself, I could relax into the present moment, relax into the stretches — enjoy them.

Doing the dishes is one of my jobs when my wife is home. I have made a point of doing the dishes to do the dishes. I’ve grown to enjoy the feel of the water on, and the dish in, my hand. Being in the moment brings its own sybaritic rewards.

As my teacher, Lama Surya Das, is fond of saying, “We are human beings, not human doings.”

Of course we sometimes need plans and agendas. We are not always housebound alone in the aftermath of a blizzard. But we will carry out those plans and agendas better, and live less stressful lives, if we are fully in every moment along the way.

— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)

Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine

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