Friday, August 9, 2013

Non-Doing: An Attitude

Writing essays for medical school applications has forced me to remember and rationalize a period of my life that I'd rather forget. It was a few years ago, when I was beginning to experiment with the Eastern art of non-doing.

I successfully did nothing for well over a year. It was a period of underachievement that left a huge hole in my resume and gave me no tangible accomplishments to show off or put on an application. However, it helped me redirect my life, partly because I used that time to learn and develop myself, and partly because I needed to step away from my old habits in order to break them.

Most of this underachievement happened before I even picked up Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind. After reading that book and initiating my own Zen practice, though, my understanding of non-doing slowly evolved into a process of active doing that is happening today.

So what changed?

What I have realized over time is that non-doing is not a command. You don't win something by restricting yourself into doing less. Instead, non-doing is a statement of the bigger picture; we are simply too small for our actions to significantly influence the universe we see around us, no matter how active we are. Therefore, non-doing is simply all we can do. We don't need to force ourselves into it. Just accepting the reality of non-doing is enough.

Embracing non-doing is an attitude--an essential one, too. If you don't embrace it, you are either in denial of the fact that action is fundamentally futile, or you are going to get depressed thinking that futility is sad. Embracing futility, though, is actually quite liberating. It opens the door to self-expression and doing things for their own sake.

The experience of our actions in the moment is where we find meaning and satisfaction. Then it's gone to make way for the next moment.

I made the decision to become a physician after I had embraced this attitude. To me, medicine looks like a way to spend a lot of quality time with people, and medical science is pretty interesting. If I can spend my days being present with people and using interesting knowledge, then I think that I will be happy with this career, even if I accomplish nothing on a cosmic scale.

It remains to be seen, though, whether medical schools will appreciate this attitude.

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