What is it like to do nothing? I mean, really do nothing, nothing at all—no recalling what has happened, no imagining what might happen, no reflecting on what is happening, no analyzing or explaining or controlling what you experience. Nothing!

Paradoxically, such radical acceptance opens a way of living that we could hardly have imagined.

Years ago, I attended a three-week retreat in Colorado. I had done many retreats, including seven years in France during which I had no communication with the outside world. There the days were full. We started meditation sessions well before sunrise and ended late in the evening. We had daily and weekly rituals and much preparatory work and cleanup. We practiced different meditation methods, with set periods for practice, set periods for study, and a set number of days on each method. With so much to do and to learn, there was no free time.

This retreat was different. The only meditation instruction was “Do nothing.” “That’s it?” I thought. “I came here to do nothing for three weeks?” We met for meals, one teaching session in the morning, and one group practice session in the evening. We had a meditation interview every few days. The rest of the time was our own. Email, cell phone, text messages, all the usual means of communication weren’t available. With no practices to learn, no commentaries to study, no preparations for rituals, I had quite literally nothing to do except sit, lie down, or go for a walk.

My cabin was on a hillside that looked over a magnificent view of tree-covered hills, with a range of mountains just visible on the horizon. The silence was highlighted by the songs of birds, the wind in the trees, rain and thunderstorms, and the grunts, scuffles, or calls of animals in the dark. Every day the sun rose, crossed the sky, and set, with the moon and stars dancing in the night.

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