The Fear of Doing Nothing

The Fear of Doing Nothing

On the road, moments pass us by in transient specs of colour, confusion and sometimes clarity. Canggu is alive; a throbbing vein in an island full of noise. In the midst of saying yes to offers of the dangerous and daring, in just four short weeks, I had found myself growing attached to the people, culture and way of life that Bali offers.

But I also found myself in search of the quiet.

Nestled in the core of Canggu lies an eco-lodge I sought out. A cobbled path wove an intricate map guiding me to my determined fate: Vipassana meditation. I wasn’t going for 10 days of silence, just an introductory session, but it was still a confronting prospect. I would spend the next hour doing nothing in a dimly lit, crescent-shaped room. “Nothing” is a strange word in this age, a time when we are relentless in our hunt for the next sight, the next adventure, the next rush.

New to the concept of remaining intentionally idle, I followed those around me. I pulled a cushion from the wall, arranged myself on the floor and settled in. I even locked eyes with the clock, which momentarily seemed like the devil himself – red digits daring me to keep track of the time. It was a challenge I would accept; crossed legs and closed eyes. Nothing to it, right?

A gong sounded to signal the beginning of the silent meditation.

A surge of panic shortly followed and I fought the urge to see just how long, or short, it had been. I hadn’t been this still since my flight over here. Or maybe I had never been this still. Meditation was not something I had ever considered to be a necessary aspect of my life. But sitting there I could feel the internal struggle brewing, my mind was racing, and my body twitching. I had been tactical in choosing my position close to the door and was contemplating my escape. Out of some unknown respect for the purity of the practice and those around me, I decided to allow myself another five minutes, or what I thought felt like five minutes.

But passing time brought with it a calm awareness. My fear of being swamped by thoughts and feelings I had failed to address dissipated with the distant chanting and sporadic oms travelling along the breeze. They were carrying soft aromas; a comforting blanket of incense to dispel the internal monologue, the recurring thought: why does the idea of doing nothing incite such fear?

Unlike my drifting mind, the humidity was steadfast, a glue forming between cotton and skin. A bead of sweat hovered just above my nose and it was gaining irritation with its momentum. I wanted desperately to cave, to seek a reprieve, but did I really want to disrupt the stillness I had worked to achieve, only to succumb to instinct?

It became clear that complete concentration does not come without practice. The realisation that in taking time out, particularly when travelling, you are not disengaging but rather grounding yourself in the moment, transcending the brutality of stiff knees and numb arse.

Admittedly, meditation may not be for everyone, and I doubt that I will find myself returning to the practice. The merits of taking time out however, will continue to resonate with me. When I begin to feel caught up in the noise, I will seek quiet. I will embrace standing still.

The hour I spent at the eco-lodge was my way of submitting to the lull. Often, it can be all too easy to lose perspective, to forget that standing still is the soul’s home base; all senses are engaged and heightened, you are immersed in the simple act of existing. I was far from the elusive state of enlightenment, but I had gone somewhere else; I had achieved a morsel of peace.

The gong sounded for the second time and the hour had passed.

I silently made my way back to my motorbike as the sun was dipping its final goodnight. I jumped on in pursuit of the nearest Bintang, finding my way back to the noise.

Cover by Dingzeyu Li