Yin and the Art of Not Doing

I spent a lot of this early Autumn doing nothing. Lying down in bed, asleep or awake. Sitting very still in a chair in the sun. I had a disturbance of the inner ears, which made movement or concentration of any kind difficult. My doctor helpfully offered the word ‘disequilibrium’ to describe the brain confusion that resulted from any exertion. On the other hand, as long as I sat or lay absolutely still (and I was calibrated like a fine spirit level to know when this blissful moment arrived), I felt fine.


Not doing

Go deeper

Beyond not doing

No thought ripples the pond



My usual world of list-ticking business turned upside down. I cancelled things. The children ate baked beans. We all watched a lot of children’s TV. When the girls were at school, I sat in the sun and watched the blackbirds eat our unpicked grapes. My days became not a question of ‘How much can I get done?’ but ‘How softly can I be? How little can I disturb myself?’

I spent a lot of time musing about balance – or the lack of it – in my life, and in the world. The balance between being and doing. The balance of Yin and Yang.

Imagine a garden. Here are some of the things the gardener does: sowing, weeding, watering, thinning, killing pests, pruning, tying up, cutting down, harvesting, picking, mulching. All good and useful Yang Doing words.

Except, as yet, there are no plants. Not until we add the Yin words, the ones that (at the risk of sounding like Neil from The Young Ones) nature does for us: incubating, germinating, sprouting, rooting, growing, budding, blossoming, fruiting, decaying, composting.

We cannot make our garden without any of these things. Sometimes we have to do something, but we also have to trust, to wait, to notice, to accommodate, and simply celebrate and be grateful. Or, at times, to surrender and accept our losses. These are all Yin qualities of Being.

In my life, and in our culture, the Yang qualities are so much more celebrated, that the Yin ones can feel invisible. They are also mistakenly thought of as passive. Is a seed lying in the ground, waiting for its exact moment to explode into life, passive? Or do we just not know what it’s up to? What about a flower offering itself up to be pollinated?

I find it sad that our culture is locked into economic progress and productivity that we are only really allowed to stop when we are ill (or dead!). We are like a garden that is constantly weeded, sprayed, fed and harvested, but not given any time to incubate, grow and blossom. What would the world look like if we could bloom into the exact shape and form that we naturally have, in our own time? What would we create, if we could allow our ideas real time to germinate? And, as a parent of tired children, I wonder what an education system that took this seriously would look like.

Now I am ‘better’ I am struggling to keep a sense of balance while I go back to the endless round of doing, and feeling that it’s not enough. Again!  And yet . . . sometimes I do remember, and I become a little more compassionate with myself, with my children, with friends being sleepy, or unproductive, or ill. And despite my conditioning (much like yours) to ‘Look busy, Jesus is coming!’ I am beginning to truly value my time ‘within’, and trying to live according to the terms of my own unfolding. It won’t pay the bills, it doesn’t bring success or prizes, because mostly the world isn’t set up to even notice. But perhaps it can bring something else – that lovely Yin word that speaks of a vessel brimming with essence: fulfilment.

So, amid the extra business of December, let’s raise a glass to doing nothing, resting, dawdling, day dreaming, procrastinating.  I give you full permission.  Let me know how it goes.








One Comment on “Yin and the Art of Not Doing”

  1. This is the yin season, as we spiral down down into winter, towards the centre of darkness – the turning point of the winter solstice. These are the days for reflecting and being still. Be well dear Jackie, your wise words are spiralling in me!

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