“Doing nothing is better than being ‘busy’ doing nothing”: Lao Tzu

How often after a very busy day do we find ourselves wondering if we achieved anything significant at all? By the end of such days we feel tired, frustrated and empty. It seems like we were ‘busy’ doing nothing.

Doing nothing is the art of flowing with life and living the way of nature. When we plan our day and then let the Great Spirit be the rudder that navigates our day, the life force that flows out of our being inadvertently gets things done. This is when singers stop singing and let the song come out from the depth of their being; the painting that flows out of an artist and when the dancer and the dance become one.

Children live this natural way of flowing with the rhythm of life. So do Indian villagers who do not have birth certificates, they focus on the mystery of the moment. These are a living testimony of Abraham Lincoln’s philosophy: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that counts. It’s the life in your years.” Native tribes in different parts of the world are also closely connected with nature and also flow with the rhythm of life just like the 90 year old man who prayed to God to find out the purpose of the rest of his life. The response he received was intriguing: “Your life will have a purpose but you will not know it and you will fulfill that purpose without knowing it!”

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22 Responses to “Doing nothing is better than being ‘busy’ doing nothing”: Lao Tzu

  1. Pearl says:

    Paul, You have touched upon my every day experience. Having rushed through the day I used to wonder at the end “what’s all these about?” Yes all our activities are just like ripples on the surface. Our being and existence; deep and undisturbed like a pool. To be immersed in this and be in touch with this could be what’s called enlightenment! Your reflection invites me for a retreat!

  2. Mark Rudis says:

    The stillness in the forest or near the river is where I find my peace. On my last birthday my daughter gifted me a fire pit which I sit near almost every evening now enjoying the sounds and the silence of the night. I study the flames or the night sky with a receptive mind. I’m open to the sounds of the wind in the absence of an Owl or a distant Coyote. All of them speak to me. Any lingering stress related problem seems like a small thing when I stop to retrieve it from the distance nature and my fire has placed it. I read the comments of an Indigenous Elder who said that yesterday is depression and tomorrow is anxiety. I like your reference to Indian people who posess no birth papers. They are not hampered with their own original statitstic, they don’t wear the leash that we bear. In American society we have become individual files of compiled statistics, that is how we are defined. But that is not how we define ourselves. Our being is defined by our interactions with Creation: human, plant, animal, stone, water and sky. And in the end our ability to interact with all peacefully will be our true definitions. Excellent message my brother. Thank you.

  3. Henri says:

    “Doing nothing is the art of flowing with life and living the way of nature. When we plan our day and then let the Great Spirit be the rudder that navigates our day, the life force that flows out of our being inadvertently gets things done….”

    Great Spirit, Loving Source, Origin of the cosmos, big enough to hold ALL in being keep me too focused on the mystery of the moment.

  4. Mary Anne says:

    Thanks! This is just what I needed to hear!

  5. hermanqx4824 says:

    Hi Paul,
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post.
    Doing nothing one day, a long time ago, in a very deep state of relaxation I experienced Life flowing through me, and as a still, small voice that slowly whispered, “I – am – you”. It took me a while to understand. What do I understand?

    That the life each of us is living is really Hir (His, Her, Its) life in the form of the individual human being each of us is—with all the limitations being human entails. We are Life flowing, so to speak.

    Which reminds me of Meister Eckhart’s statement: “. . . God is closer to me than I am to myself . . . And I am the more blessed the more I realize this . . .”

  6. JOE DAHLEM says:

    Many great ideas here. I will use some in the newsletters.

    Blessings to you.


    Sent from my iPad


  7. med7861Ellen says:

    At this time of year a good reflection for me. “When we plan our day and then let the Great Spirit be our rudder that navigates our day…”
    I can wake during the night and my mind is busy with many things I “should do”. I can create turmoil and chaos before I get out of bed. But if when I get up I can spend time in silence, realize that the chaos is of my own doing, I can settle into a peaceful place. If I remember that EVERYTHING I need will be given to me. If I plan my day and let go of the outcome, all is good.
    Not always successful, but getting better. Peace

  8. Aidan says:

    Thanks Paul. I would have preferred to have written “nothing” in reply but I’m not certain it would have been able to communicate my appreciation of your thought.

  9. Reblogged this on brokenfishblog and commented:
    My friend, Paul Coutinho, is a teacher and spiritual advisor. He’s awesome!

  10. Justin says:

    “Your life will have a purpose but you will not know it and you will fulfill that purpose without knowing it!”

    Today I struggled with knowing how to spend much unscheduled free time I had. Normally it is easy to get down on myself about going through a day seemingly unintentionally, but this quote helps me see that there is purpose to how I fill my time even if it doesn’t seem productive or meaningful at present. I am worthy of compassion and love even if I do not “do something”s that appear productive or helpful.

  11. Miriam Wesselmann says:

    Thanks, Paul, for articulating my desired way to live.

  12. JoAnn Rulo says:

    God told Moses his name is I AM. Jesus said I AM the way the truth and the life. I AM is a present tense alluding to the fact that God is PRESENT in the Present Moment. We must be present in order to experience GOD. The present moment is all there is. God’s name is not I was so we needn’t live in the past regretting what we once did or regretful that we no longer have what we once had. God’s name is not I will be so we needn’t worry about the future. God’s name is I AM and the only place we will find Him is the present moment. And it is in the present moment that we will find our purpose – whatever is before us at this moment is our purpose – to engage in this moment with love.

  13. Judy Williamson says:

    So true Paul! As society looks at multi-tasking, crammed schedules and non-stop doing as desirable, it is great to be reminded to stop and breathe. Life so often is not in the list being accomplished but in the interruptions that occur while we are trying to get through our list. Through art, I have create that space in my life where there is no time and no expectations. I just create. I used to feel guilty that I wasn’t doing anything “productive”,but have realized it’s a way that I feed my soul- and what’s more important than that?

  14. weedmenot says:

    I am reminded of the idiom “There’s no time like the present.” How peculiar that the idiom always implies we “must” do something now, not letting this moment pass. Yet, this present moment endures from moment into the next moment. lengthening when we are aware of the present moment (and not busy thinking of it passing before we get something done). I long to be childlike and live the “natural way of flowing with the rhythm of life” because there really is nothing else like the present moment. –deb

  15. Paul, very pertinent to today’s rat race in the US and other Materialistic places around the world. WE have lost the true essence of life and our being…keep spreading get the spiritual, mental and practical messages to all your followers…

  16. Wonderful blog and great responses! A very blessed holiday season to everyone!

  17. Mary Lenihan says:

    I laugh because I was recently having a conversation about just these things . . . doing, busyness, nothingness and purpose. I found it helpful to contemplate what is behind the experience of nothingness after so much “productivity”. I saw it as a “disconnect” from life all while thinking I am living life. Really, it is an avoidance of intimacy. I am thankful when I am willing to pause and Presence graces my everyday life in the world in the midst of doing, or not. Thanks for sharing, Paul.

  18. Jks says:

    Perfect for this time of year.

  19. Susan Flores Crissy says:

    Paul, what absolutely good timing to receive notice of your blog. It is a blessing to me. Hope all is well with you. Your thoughts resonate with me and I am taking a deeper breathe to so more enjoy my xmas preparation and some cooking. Until later, Susan

  20. dianaomo says:

    being present in the moment, mindfully can make present presence, wonderful…mindless business is lazy foolishness, and gosh!! I do it too…sitting in meditation widens my awareness and over time, with willingness and ability to “just sit” and breathe, there is less busy doing nothing! Hiking and bicycling outdoors in nature are the best ways for me to reconnect with present moment…in the flow!

  21. Yolanda Redington says:

    Paul thank you for this inspirational blogs. Can’t wait for your lectures to begin. Blessings, yolanda

    • Jennifer says:

      What a beautiful thought – its not the years in my life that counts, its the life in my years that do. The beauty and wonder of God’s creation each new day speaks volumes of His divine presence, love and closeness to me, to us. i must enjoy and relish life to the full in good times and in not so good times for life is indeed precious, it is His life flowing in and through me. Thanks and God bless Paul.

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