Visit my show at the PSCCU Credit Union, Vashon, Washington May, June 2024 

The art of nothing-ing

a view of Umbria

September is here, school bells have rung, and I’m here with my first blog since leaving for Italy. I missed you even as I gained so much from the break. My time in Italy studying Transformative Arts was incredible, with so many learnings I could share.

Rather than swamp you, I’ll just share one fundamental: nothing. I learned about nothing.

It’s hard to put that learning into words because we often say “doing nothing,” when what we mean is doing something which feels like a nothing, like spending the afternoon watching “America’s favorite cat videos,” which might be quite fun but it’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about nothing as in a blank space, with no intention.

Adventures in nothing-ing.

The first Transformative Arts class I attended at the Awakening Arts Academy near Assisi, Italy, was called “Spirit, Art, and Nature,” and it was held in a temporary studio in a forest. Our assignment was to pick a space in the woods that spoke to us and then create a sanctuary space or installation in the woods we could share with our classmates in a ritual on the last day of our five-day class.

During my first two days of class, I felt exhausted. Understand that while much of my time in Italy was like being in paradise, I’d had to go through purgatory to get there. (Long flight, no sleep, a lost bag, and ninety-degree heat on arrival.) Fortunately, it all worked out. But at the beginning of “Spirit, Art and Nature,” I didn’t want to do anything at all. So after I chose my spot in the woods, that’s what I did: nothing.

I set my exhausted body down on a sheet spread over grass and leaves and just lay there. I did not try to observe the patterns of bark on trees, the dance of ants through slices of bark, or listen to birdsong or the rustle of leaves. All that would come later. I did not think about creating an installation. I lay there, almost defiantly refusing to do anything.

That’s when the magic happened. I experienced nothing–an opportunity to be with no agenda at all. I spent two hours in nothingness, not sleeping, not doing, not even trying to rest. No agenda. No plan. No need to do or not do. Just blank space and the forest tickling my senses. When it came time to return to the group, I felt deeply renewed. That’s when I realized I had almost never experienced “nothing-ing” before.

Having a container for nothing-ing

Part of what made nothing possible was having something: the right container. If you had told me to go experience doing nothing, I would have failed because I would have tried to do nothing – an oxymoron.

But in that class, I didn’t have to think about what I would be doing. I knew I had three hours of class time, and I’d be getting back with my classmates at the end of our morning session. I could flow with whatever wanted to unfold in that block of time and then return to the group when a flute, rattle, or drum beckoned.

The importance of having a container wasn’t initially apparent to me. I just focused on carrying my sheet to the woods. In hindsight, my whole experience took place within a container, a structure established by the course leader, Dana Lynne Anderson, when she designed the program.

To get the idea of a container, think of going to a “float to relax” tank. For an hour, you might experience blissful nothingness. But what makes that nothingness possible is that someone has provided the tub and set the timer. With that, you get to experience nothing.

Creating opportunities for moments of nothing-ing

To have more opportunities for moments of nothing-ing in my life, I need spaces, containers of time in my schedule, in which I can let go of the necessity to do anything.

And while watching Netflix or cat videos may be relaxing, watching silly movies is not what I mean by nothing-ing. Lying in an agenda-less space is something else again.

For some, meditation may provide a space for nothing-ing. But if you’re like me, meditation can also contain a lot of doing, as a stream of thoughts gallops across my mind and I try to calm. Even “witnessing” my thoughts is a form of doing. Meditation rarely feels like nothing-ing.

Bringing it back home

Am I advocating for nothing-ing as the way of the future? Hardly–there’s so much I love to do. I’m thinking of taking small doses to reset my system–20 minutes would be great.

I hope it is possible to create an oasis of nothing in the midst of our overstimulated American culture.

Or maybe, I’ll seize the moment when life presents me with an opportunity for nothing-ing, like a very long wait at the airport. Perhaps I will drop my expectations about how life is supposed to be and instead see it as an opportunity for something special: a time for blessed nothingness.

It’s great to be back with you (and yes, I miss Italy!)

And now,  a view that was really something:

One Response

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Translate »

Create Your Own Story! Get the Free Download

Live your life with more meaning, creativity and joy. And enjoy our free e-book to help you create the story you want to live.

You have Successfully Subscribed!