On doing nothing

I recently finished watching the fourth season of The Crown. Throughout the series, the characters explain how the Crown and the elected Government represent the two sides of power. One side that is changeable, works hands-on, gets dirty and suffers the blame, and another side that is eternal, idealised, immaculate, almost magical. There comes a point when they clash over the virtue of doing nothing:

Queen: “I’m merely asking a question. Whether it is correct to exercise power simply because it is yours to use. Power is nothing without authority. And at this moment, your Cabinet is against you. Your party is against you. And if the polls are to be believed, if you were to call a general election today, you would not win. Which suggests the country is against you. Perhaps the time has come for you to try doing nothing, for once.”

M. Thatcher: “The difference is, you have power in doing nothing. I will have none.”

The series reminded me on several occasions of the duality of the human psyche. The reflective and the active attitudes. Both necessary, but often difficult to reconcile. Searching for our inner selves activates opposite angles. Logic and numinosity. Action and reflection. Eros and Logos. Ego conscience and the unconscious. One side will find its Self by doing nothing. The other will ‘die’.

I thought we might end this evening with a discussion of the soul. All of the greatest religions speak of the soul’s endurance before the end of life. So, what then does it mean to die?

The Illusionist

Indeed. What does it mean…? The second half of life is about unlearning, unwalking the way, unknitting the scarf I made to keep myself warm, dismantling the mortar and the bricks I laid to build all those blue ramparts. It is about accepting and ‘doing nothing’, waiting for the seeds to grow.

I would never have been able to do this when I was younger. Acceptance was not one of my abilities – indeed, it it still isn’t – and it was probably incompatible with youth itself. I would have rebelled against it and despised all those who chose or defended acceptance. It is somewhat ironic that by doing nothing we may find life, rather than death.

I often read about this concept, to stop trying. But how do you stop trying to achieve balance? How are you supposed to do ‘nothing’ about your main aim in life? Doing nothing is extremely difficult. Silence. Waiting. Not even waiting, just being.

Ah, my brother, you will never know the happiness of thinking nothing and doing nothing. This is the most delightful thing there is, next to sleep. So we were before birth, and so we shall be after death.

Karl Jöel, quoted in Jung’s Symbols of Transformation

– I feel as if I had borrowed a text book from fifth grade while I’m still stuck in first grade. There is so much I still need to find. I was thinking I want to get back to reading my book…
– Why?
– I want to finish it because I want to read more books.
– Why do you want to read more books? In the end, aren’t they all the same book? The story is different, but what you find in them, what you learn from them, isn’t it always the same?
– …
– Would you say that you find in a book precisely what you need to find? Would you say it was only there, hidden in that very book and not in others? Or is it possible that you are seeing your own self reflected?
– …
– Why the hurry? Whatever you will find in the next book, is already in this one. You might as well take your time and enjoy it. There is no hurry to finish this book. There is no hurry to finish even this page. It will take as long as it needs, as long as you need. All books are the same book…
The book is in the reader. A mirror. You find what you need to find.

We all have to find our own way. We cannot teach anybody else what to do. The only thing we may have in common is the benefit of waiting, of doing nothing in order to reveal the way. Or the spot, rather.

Down by the river by the boats
Where everybody goes to be alone
Where you won’t see any rising sun
Down to the river we will run

When by the water we drink to the dregs
Look at the stones on the riverbed
I can tell from your eyes
You’ve never been by the riverside

Down by the water the riverbed
Somebody calls you somebody says
Swim with the current and float away
Down by the river every day

Oh my god I see how everything is torn in the river deep
And I don’t know why I go the way
Down by the riverside

Riverside, Agnes Obel

If you want to release the ghost in the shell, just do nothing. Wait. Yes, wait here while your heart is torn, while your dreams hit the ground and are smashed to pieces, while you miss those people who left an imprint on your life. Wait here and let go. Accept.