Just Do Nothing

Look up and enjoy the sky and trees. canstockphoto13332159

There’s a popular shoe company that has a familiar slogan suggesting we should all “Just Do It,” but it occurs to me that there are times when the opposite is best--at some points in life, it’s better to “just do nothing.”

This concept first crept into my consciousness years ago during my first visit to New York City.  It was quite an eye-opening experience for a farm-boy-turned-Marine.

I was there for a professional training conference. I stayed in a famous old hotel and the conference center was about five blocks down the street.

The first morning of training, I took my turn entering the fast-rotating door out of the hotel to walk to the conference center.  There were so many people going in and out it was hard to find a safe entrance. When I finally entered, I had to keep moving--quickly--or risk being stuck in that evil rotating monster forever.

The minute I hit the sidewalk I was swept, unwillingly, into a canal of people that flowed like two fast-moving rivers running in opposite directions but in the same river bed.

I wasn’t real sure where I was going but stopping to ask directions was not an option; to stop was to be bowled over, pushed aside like a pebble. I somehow managed to negotiate a few crosswalks and intersections without getting hit by a car, bus or taxi and found my way to the conference building.

I didn’t leave the conference center until well after 5 p.m. and when I pushed open the door to leave I was ingested into the belly of the beast once more; only now, the two rivers had reversed course, each going in the opposite direction from what they had that morning.

“Why would anyone want to live in a mad house such as this,” I thought to myself.

The next morning, with apprehension, I decided maybe using a traditional hinged door to exit the hotel rather than the rotating meat grinder would be less life-threatening; I was wrong.  I was swept into the same vortex of humanity.

It was a pleasant morning, though, and I wanted to enjoy it a little; so, about halfway to the conference building, without stopping or breaking stride, I side-stepped, pivoted and plastered my back to a building, allowing the wave of bodies to continue pulsing by.

This gave me the opportunity to stop and look around at the tall--really tall--buildings.

My gaze went up, and up, and up. The buildings were so tall that the sky was just a small, blue patch wedged between the walls and roofs of the skyscrapers. As the sun made its way down the varying patterns of stone, brick, glass, metal and paint of the buildings, it produced a kaleidoscope of colors, shadows, and textures.

I’ve never been to the Redwood Forests of California, but I imagined looking up at the giant trees must be like looking up at these buildings. It was a wonder to behold.

As my gaze slowly dropped I realized that, of all the people within my view, I was the only one standing still, doing nothing. For an instant, I felt like I was in that forest of Redwoods and the river of people continued to flow by as I enjoyed a moment in the sun.

By just stopping and doing nothing, I had discovered beauty and peace where, just moments before, I had witnessed chaos and disorder.

I’ve always remembered that experience and when I feel that the rush of life is getting too fast, I sometimes take a moment and again, mentally, plaster my back against that wall, stop and, just do nothing.

In our society, doing nothing is generally considered to be a negative thing; and to do nothing repeatedly can certainly equate to laziness and it can be habit forming. I don’t advocate that.

But I do think that there are times when the best, most prudent thing to do is just stop and do nothing.

Of course, doing nothing is a misnomer, because as long as we’re living and breathing, we’re doing something, right? What might appear to be nothing to others may actually be doing something to the person who is doing nothing?

Take my New York experience, for example; to those busy pedestrians I probably appeared to be a lost tourist gawking at the wonders of the Big Apple. In fact, I was a fellow traveler in the stream of life who was stopping to admire the features of the city they called home. I was taking it in, enjoying the moment, possibly seeing things that they, who lived there every day, had never seen because they had never taken the time to just stop, and do nothing. Parks and rec and children's camp professionals actually exist, in large part, to give people the opportunity to “just do nothing.”

Passive parks and green spaces (as well as summer camps) provide a “do-nothing” haven, a place for people to just pull off the busy human highway, look up and enjoy the sky and trees. Ponds, lakes, and rivers offer the same respite but with an added bonus of aquatic distractions. Paths and trails entice people to “do nothing” while they’re walking.

Even active endeavors such as youth and adult sports might be considered by some to be “do-nothing” activities; they aren’t school or a job, but they do take people out of their everyday routine and give them a chance to recuperate from the daily grind.

So on this Friday, here’s hoping Weekenders can stop at some point during the rush of the day, side-step, pivot and plant your back against the wall. Look up and see the forest for the trees. Take a break, do nothing and recognize that you are part of something important and vital to your fellow travelers.

Sometimes, the best way to “do nothing” is to “just do it.”

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net.