The doers and watchers of nothing

If we are to continue to talk about doing nothing does it in turn become something? Such is my quandary on the first wintry weather morning of the New Year.

I was thinking of making this the second in a series on doing nothing. In a nod to “Throwback Thursday,” I had people write in and say things like, “Technically-speaking, Bob, doing nothing is really doing something. Or, how else can you clarify it? Or, depends on your definition of nothing.”

Well, no matter your definition of “nothing,” doing nothing to me means just that, you’re doing, well, nothing. Furthermore, if you’re analyzing my version of nothing to quantify it as “something,” you really are part of that group of people mentioned in my first piece on nothing, who are incapable of truly enjoying nothing; you might be capable of enjoying anything but, but anything but is clearly not nothing. Crystal clear?

We are doers and we are watchers. The watchers among us like looking at the doers. And then there are the times when the doers and the watchers do absolutely nothing—sometimes together.

One of the most satisfying forms of doing nothing engaged in by the watchers is watching doers perform physical labor. This kind of work is anything but nothing, but if you’re looking at someone doing it (physical labor), it’s all about doing nothing.

Watchers can be looking at someone doing mental labor, but when watchers look at those who are laboring mentally, they risk falling asleep. Is sleeping doing nothing? Maybe sometimes. I don’t remember my dreams, so when I’m sleeping I’m doing nothing, essentially. The contrarians to this school of nothingness may suggest I am healing my body by resting so am not doing nothing. These are the kinds of people who kept asking teachers questions in elementary school until they were told to shut the hell up.

When a watcher of a doer who is laboring physically becomes relaxed while doing so, I would suggest they are implementing the skill of doing nothing at high levels. Go ahead and try it if you don’t believe me. As someone who has worked his share of physically demanding jobs, I can attest to this. Every time I was on a crew and one of the bosses had to demonstrate what they wanted us laborers to do, I wanted to break out in the Eagles song, “Peaceful Easy Feeling.”

If you’re going to analyze the song’s lyrics, again, you are ricocheting far from what I’m talking about. It’s the feeling that comes over you—relaxation, serenity, tranquility, that are the outcroppings of doing nothing (as you blurrily watch the boss lift mortar blocks, load them in a wheelbarrow and cart them off to the back of the job site).

Can you be healthier for doing nothing? I think I’ve just proven you can be in the previous paragraph. Most times you feel better for doing nothing, unless of course, you’re a pretty messed up person.

When you get really good at doing nothing, your mind goes pretty blank. In the old days we used to call it spacing out, but we were really just doing nothing and didn’t know the correct terminology. When your mind goes blank as you do nothing, you pretty much cross over into expert status as you may be “technically” doing something, but you’re pretty much oblivious to any recall of it—one of the clinical examples of doing nothing.

It’s a sort of amnesia, but I like to think of it as just a chunk of time of which you have no memory whatsoever of. I’m sure somebody somewhere will suggest this is a mental condition worthy of a doctor’s visit of some kind. But, if I go to the doctor because I’m doing nothing well, it just means I’m not proud of the times I’m doing nothing, when I really am.

The Eagles band from California. From left to ...

The Eagles band from California. From left to right are: Glenn Frey, Don Henley, Joe Walsh, and Timothy B. Schmit during their Long Road out of Eden Tour in 2008. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By not becoming alarmed when you do nothing, among other things, it demonstrates the simple joy you take from it. Doing something is overrated. As I said in my first installment on doing nothing, those who insist on doing something more often than not, seemingly have better, more glamorous talking points when they come back from vacation. For example:

“What did you do on vacation, Bob?”


“Seriously, man, what did you do?”


“C’mon, you must’ve done something.”


Sounds boring.”

“You’re boring.”



“How can you take a vacation and do nothing?”

“What do you care?”

“Vacations are for going to new places and doing things.”

“According to you.”

“According to everybody.”

“You’ve really got a problem with people who do nothing, don’t you, Herb.

“Well, if you’re saying I don’t like people who can’t get off their ass and be productive, then yeah, I guess I do.”

“That’s your problem, man, not mine.”

“How so?”

“Because you have no tolerance, respect, caring and yes, love, for those who do nothing. People who do nothing for what you think is too long a time, really don’t care what you think, either, truth be told.”

“Well, they should.”

“No, Herb, they shouldn’t.”

“You really are a crackpot, Bob.”

“Crackpot? Did you seriously just call me a crackpot, Herb?”

“If the shoe fits, Bob…”

“Herb, I want to commend you.”

“To my point about you being a crackpot, Bob, what the hell are you talking about?”

“The entire conversation we’ve had here is the newest form of doing nothing. We’ve seen it many times on television for instance. But, we just didn’t know what to call it. Have you gone to the movies lately?”

“Why, yes, I have.”

“What did you see?”

“I can’t remember.”

“Herb, congratulations, I think if you think about it, but not too hard, you’ll realize you did nothing when you went to the movies.”

“How so?”

“Well, I would have called you a watcher if you had remembered any of it. But the fact you can’t shows me you actually did nothing.”

“Bob, I can’t remember what I did on vacation two years ago.”

“I believe you’ve got it, Herb. If you try real hard to remember something you did you probably can. But, if you don’t wrack your memory over it, you’re showing me you did nothing on that vacation by virtue of your memory of any of it escaping you, at least on the surface.”

“But, I could remember it, probably, if I underwent intensive psychotherapy, right?”

Yes, Herb, you probably could. And we just broke our newly set record for doing nothing via a conversation we won’t remember now that it’s done.”

“Does anything really, matter, Bob?”

“You’re getting deep, now, Herb. Remember, man, everything matters until it doesn’t.”


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