Learning to Love Useless Moments: Natural Cycles and the Beauty of Doing Nothing
By Tasha Friedman
How many beautiful, precious, and perfectly useless moments do you experience every day?
You’re waiting for the bus, or standing in line to pay for your groceries. You are waiting for someone to answer your call, and the phone keeps ringing.
The meditation session has ended, the bell has rung, and your eyes are open, but you haven’t yet stood up.
You’re smelling a sweet frangipani, and for a second, you forget about your busy schedule, your appointments and commitments.
In a useless moment, with nothing to do, you can just be.
Often, the mind rebels! We try to jump back into motion, losing ourselves in distractions or activity. And yet, any such action causes us to lose contact with the present moment and all the grace that these situations, which have little to offer the rational mind, can reveal.
With a shift in perspective, these pauses in the current of daily life become like gems, reflecting an indescribable beauty.
That shift can simply happen by letting go of our normal conditioning, our very relative sense of purpose and meaning, and opening to the deep, mysterious harmony of Reality itself.
Natural Cycles of Expansion and Contraction
Letting go of the endless chasing after goals and accomplishments allows us to enter into a different flow, in harmony with the rhythms of nature—and points beyond even these, towards a deeper reality.
The rational mind likes straight lines. It’s how we make sense of things, making order out of chaos.
Yet the natural world, from which the mind arises, does not work like that. It flows in cycles: expansion and contraction, on every scale from the vibration of subatomic particles, blinking in and out of existence, to the life cycles of stars and galaxies, even the universe as a whole.
Seasons pass, one into another, reiterating themselves in a spiral. Living creatures are born, flourish for a while, then fade away. When one being dies, its body decays, is broken down into base elements, and becomes food for a new form of life.
Species are constantly evolving, not in blocky stages but through every generation, in relationship to their environment and each other. Organisms become more complicated, then less; brains, wings, and eyes, all kinds of structures, appear and disappear, then reappear on a completely different branch of the evolutionary tree.
At some point in its reproductive cycle, every multicellular organism passes through a stage where it is only one cell.
Taking a Cosmic Perspective
These mysteries of nature invite a more expansive view of life, in which our ordinary concerns melt into a vastness beyond comprehension.
The universe also was once a singularity. More singular than a single cell, all of space and time were condensed in a zero point of no dimensions, until for unknown reasons, they unfolded themselves as the matrix of the manifested universe.
What provided that first impulse, creatio ex nihilo? Something out of nothing, the beginning of time or the first pulse of an unborn baby’s heart. Neither science nor religion provides a satisfactory answer, but in the face of this unknowing, the mind melts in wonder.
Birth, like death, is a mystery before which we tremble.
In Hindu and Buddhist cosmology, the Big Bang that created our universe was not the first event of its kind and won’t be the last (if it even makes sense to talk about beginnings and endings when the universe begins and ends at the same point beyond time). Cosmic cycles roll out on a scale that defies human imagination. Eventually, the universe is absorbed back into the Void whence it arose.
All forms come to rest in Yoga Nidra, Vishnu sleeping on the sea of milk.
Looking on this scale, all of our problems, as well as our desires, our triumphs, our ambitions, and everything else, seem almost comically insignificant.
This isn’t to deny or discount our very human experiences, which are always exactly as real as we believe them to be. Understanding where we fit in just puts them in a different perspective, allowing us to welcome them with more peace and appreciation.
Recognizing Grace at Every Point of the Cycle
You are not fundamentally different from the universe as a whole; you are none other than the universe as it appears when Consciousness views itself from a certain perspective. Your life also flows in cycles of growth and decay, turning outwards and inwards.
As much as there are times of expansion, when everything is moving and blossoming, there are periods when things are falling apart, fading, or just when nothing much is happening at all. There is grace in these movements, offering itself up whenever you let go of the idea that life should be other than it is.
Loss can be a powerful catalyst for growth. The absence of a beloved person, a relationship, a job, a vision, or anything that you counted on, might clarify that happiness and stability do not come from these external reference points.
Even intense pain can be distilled into an unshakeable commitment to Truth.
Yet, it doesn’t have to be this dramatic. Even in seemingly useless moments, whether waiting for a pot to boil or waiting for your life to get back “on track,” there is an opportunity to awaken to greater freedom.
The Beauty of Waiting
Waiting—being caught between tasks, between goals, having nothing to do, or not knowing how to proceed—is difficult, even agonizing, for the result-oriented mind. Just consider the widely dreaded experiences of waiting in the dentist’s office or standing in line at the post office with no end in sight.
But these in-between times only create suffering if you are living in expectation, wanting an alternative to the present moment. There is no suffering in simply existing from moment to moment—which is good news because this is the very fabric of our lives, no matter what else we seem to be doing.
One moment of awareness after another, or rather one continuous Present Moment in which different content arises and dissolves. Waiting itself is quiet and beautiful.
Accustomed to the domain of the rational mind, most of us are conditioned to live according to its notion of linear progress. If you don’t get somewhere, what’s the point of going?
But as yogis, we are trying to go nowhere—which is not the same as not trying to go anywhere.
In common society, everything must have a purpose, even our time. A useless moment is time wasted. With this attitude, you might achieve great things and make yourself a person who is someone in the world, but you would be missing out on something much more intimate and precious.
Instead of emphasizing the doing and achieving, what might you find if you shifted your focus to these useless moments?
Spaciousness, peace, a kind of sweet emptiness outside of ordinary time… In these moments—with nowhere to go and nothing to do—the background of Stillness becomes more obvious.
The Creative Potential of Doing Nothing
There is so much freedom in realizing there is nothing to accomplish. Life simply is as it is and existence continues no matter what we make out of ourselves.
In this recognition of a lack of any inherent meaning, with no particular form or structure that we have to fit ourselves into, we are free to make our lives into art.
It’s no coincidence that periods of silence often give rise to the greatest creative inspiration.
Any break from the cycles of ordinary thinking, whether it’s a few seconds of mental void in meditation or a month in solitude, invites new possibilities. The insights and ideas that come through stillness have a different quality: they are more simple, more elegant, and so natural that they seem obvious but impossible to arrive at through personal effort.
Of course, this fountain of creativity dries up as soon as you try to force something out of it! It flows purely through grace, by connecting to the creative source, which is impersonal and ineffable.
So, welcome the inspiration without grasping at it. Give space for your visions and ideas to arise while recognizing them as simply more forms appearing within awareness, however beautiful and alluring they are.
Most importantly, whether or not it results in creativity, honor that Stillness for what it is: the sacred essence of Reality making itself known.
Tasha is a Hridaya Yoga teacher and a frequent contributor to our blog. You can read all of her posts here.