Niksen : The Astounding Art of Doing Nothing

“It is awfully hard work doing nothing” ~ Oscar Wilde

It is an art. I realised that during my mid-term holidays from school. My routine life kept me on my toes. My entire day was spent completing tasks and doing chores, and I had completely forgotten what it’s like to do NOTHING at all.

When the holidays began, and I had no work from school, my mind was still stuck in work mode. I felt that I needed to do this, or should I do that or reply to a mail and so on and so forth. I actually began to feel guilty about not doing anything at all. Not only that, but I couldn’t just relax and enjoy the nothingness.

Although this wasn’t the case a while ago, as my life’s pace wasn’t dictated by my job. We lived in the countryside and things were never rushed like the way it is in an urban setup. Since we moved back to the city a year and a half ago, I felt that I had to constantly do something, be on the go, and even the train of thoughts kept me on the same track.

But then I realised what I was doing to myself – feeling stressed out, overworked, anxious, and I had become irritable. Then came ‘Niksen’ to the rescue.

Understanding Niksen

The Dutch concept of “Niksen” which literally means “do nothing,” just looking at your surroundings or hanging around, without any purpose.

As Carolien Janssen describes in her book, Niksen: The Dutch Art Of Doing Nothing, as “similar to mindfulness, yet you don’t need anything special to do nothing.” In order to practice it, “slow down and celebrate the moment of not achieving.”

Doing nothing came as a blessing in disguise. When you are doing nothing at all, time comes to a standstill and things begin to move slowly, a pace that your mind fears to take on. You begin to notice the subtleties of life, for example – you observe your child’s giggles for absolutely no reason or the dance of the leaf as it sways in the wind and gently falls on the ground.

I had stopped noticing such things on a daily basis, and that made this whole idea of doing nothing important for my own well-being.

So picture yourself sitting on a chair and looking outside the window and just being without any agenda, schedule or chores to attend to.

Today’s modern society has transformed many of us into doers, performers, and overachievers. It doesn’t mean one shouldn’t be ambitious, but we must also make time to ‘do nothing’ without feeling guilty about it.

According to a study done a few years ago, people were put in a room and were asked to be just by themselves, and they were given the option of just sitting by themselves or electrically shock themselves. What’s shocking is that 67% of men and 25% of women chose to give themselves a mild electric shock rather than just sit there.

The art of doing nothing is a powerful practice that may well change our lives. What surfaces is – our feelings at the moment (whatever it may be), our ego drops its guard and our true self emerges.

niksen doing nothing

Young children are masters of doing nothing, or even cats for that matter. I often see my 5-year-old son lying on the ground several times during the day looking outside at the birds or a tree. It is a temporary moment of withdrawal from the hustle and bustle of life.

How to practice Niksen?

If you think to do nothing sounds difficult, then here are a few ways to get into a state of deep relaxation.

Switch off all your distractions – TV, phone, laptops, gadgets or people.

Find a comfortable spot where it would be easy for you to switch off. Yes, may be your favorite chair or the verandah.

If you have had a bad day, then it would be good to begin by focusing on your breath. Slow down, take a few deep breaths in and out.

That’s it, there is nothing more to doing nothing. You will discover, in that space of nothingness, something substantial will emerge within you. When you let go of controlling every moment of your day, you experience a state of deep relaxation.

If not at home, then take it outdoors. Go for a walk in the forest, lie on grass, look at the sky and the clouds passing by, or just close your eyes and relax! After 10-15 minutes of doing nothing, you can get back to doing something. If 10 mins is too much of quiet time, then begin with 2-3 mins and gradually increase the time limit.

How will Niksen ‘doing nothing’ benefit you?

The current times have been quite challenging indeed, in terms of finances, work, maintaining sanity amidst all the uncertainty. Switching off from the day-to-day grind for as little as 10-15 mins is an elixir of rejuvenation, restoration, and renewal.

Research has also found that allowing your mind to wander can help you be more creative and be a more effective problem solver.

According to a neurologist, Marcus Raichle, a special network in our brains known as the Default Mode Network, comes alive or activates when we do nothing. This Default Mode Network is potentially the neurological basis for the self, reflecting one’s own emotional state, thinking about others, thinking about one’s self, remembering the past, and envisioning the future rather than the task being performed.

Sometimes the day is filled with so many events, that we need times to process our thoughts, feelings and to release tension from our body. Especially right now when stress and anxiety levels are high, Niksen becomes an effective way to alleviate stress, anxiety, and gain clarity in life.

Make time for doing nothing today. Let your mind wander without a guilt, daydream, it is good for you!

A Video on Niksen or the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing

Niksen, or the Dutch Art of Doing Nothing | Brut

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Art by Snatti89

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Bhavika is a nature-lover, aspiring yogini, traveler and co-founder of Fractal Enlightenment, who strives to help fellow beings reconnect with nature and their true selves. Thank you for being part of this journey.
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