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What Does It Even Mean “To Do Nothing?”

Welcome to my new, year-long project, The Sanctimonious Sect of Nothing Is Sacred (L’Édifiante secte de rien (n’)est sacré). At the invitation of Montreal artist-run centre DARE-DARE, and as part of their current cycle of programming, “La Société des Rendez-vous” I am embarking on what I realize is going to be a particularly challenging task: Doing Nothing (paradox intended). In my initial proposal I wrote:

…What would happen if I proposed a project in which I did…nothing? But I wouldn’t really be doing nothing. I would probably read. Maybe write. Definitely stare off into space. And walk. And what if I opened the offer for others to come and join me in the activity of doing…nothing? Inviting guests to bring a book. A notepad. A pen. Or…nothing.

Usually when I want to engage in this…nothingness I have to deliberately set aside time to do so. And then when I do, I feel guilty and inadequate. What have I done today, this week, this month, to deserve this doing of…nothing? Clearly I haven’t done enough.

What I would find most useful – and audacious – would be to propose a space and extended moment of…nothing. An opportunity for rest. While I could really use this downtime (and am convinced that if I’m feeling this way most likely many others are too), I also see the affirmation of such an activity as an inherently political act; it challenges notions of productivity, what constitutes “failure” (and success) and reconsiders “non-productive” uses of time.

This is my dream project. And, for the next year, at regular intervals and in various configurations, I will enthusiastically hold the space of…nothing. Doing nothing in the company of others who wish to accompany me in this quiet, open, sacred, and decidedly un-productive project.

…And now that I am actually starting, I understand – with joy and a large dose of trepidation – I don’t even know what that means!

So from May 2016 to May 2017 (and possibly on through for the rest of life, if I am lucky) I will not only attempt to consciously Do Nothing, but sit with the complexity of that question. To insert this Nothing into my everyday. To see/accept/appreciate Nothing as Something  (and follow all my Somethings with Nothing).

Nothing as a proposal for the Potential in Everything.

Moment. Of. Nothing.

As part of B-312’s annual collective fundraising exhibition, POUR L’ART, I will be proposing a performative experience. Moment. Of. Nothing. (Moment. De. Rien.) invites potential art-buyers to choose a moment of nothing among three possible options. One, two or three of the three performative experiences can be purchased, the resulting “product” being an accompanied moment together, out in the world, doing nothing. A walk, an interval in sitting, a pause while staring off into space are all on offer…

POUR L’ART, exposition bénéfice
Galerie B-312
372, Ste-Catherine, O, suite 403

Du 22 avril au 13 mai, 2017
vernissage le 22 avril, 2017 à 14h

– read more about the exhibition here –

Talking About Nothing With… Parlons de rien avec… Sarah Harwood (Montreal)

Public Forum About Nothing Presents: Talking About Nothing With…

Sarah Harwood
April 21, 2017 from 2 to 4pm

As part of the yearlong project, The Sanctimonious Sect of Nothing Is Sacred, I am inviting artists, researchers, thinkers, and practitioners of various disciplines – both within and outside of the arts – to present their reflections in an open format around the question of Doing Nothing.

The fourth in the series is a hands-on lesson, followed by an open discussion, with Feldenkrais Method Practitioner, Sarah Harwood.

Feldenkrais is a form of somatic education that uses gentle movement and directed attention to improve movement and enhance human functioning. Through this Method, you can increase your ease and range of motion, improve your flexibility and coordination, and rediscover your innate capacity for graceful, efficient movement. These improvements will often generalize to enhance functioning in other aspects of your life.

Sarah writes:
“By moving slowly and deliberately in each class using everyday actions like looking up, reaching, turning, or bending as inspiration, we are given the opportunity to learn how we use ourselves. We experience how different parts of ourselves relate to each other and we can use this knowledge to inform a variety of movement options and thinking patterns that may have previously been unavailable to us. People of all fitness levels, abilities, sizes and genders are welcome to attend. The classes are verbally guided, and hands-on help is available for those who request it. Classes are usually conducted either on mats on the floor (which are provided) or seated in chairs. There is no stretching or strength training involved.”

Biography
Sarah Harwood is a Feldenkrais practitioner certified by the North American Feldenkrais Guild. She’s also completed the first two segments of a Somatic Experiencing (SE) training program. When she’s not teaching or practising Feldenkrais for herself, Sarah can be found doing graphic design and cooking up a storm. She’s a friendly, pragmatic, creative type who loves pen and ink drawing, reading about how humans work, and gardening. She was raised in tiny wilderness village in central British Columbia, and it’ll show if you ask her to build a fire or a drift-wood fort. She grew up with severe anxiety and hyper-sensitivity and is particularly interested in exploring how the Feldenkrais Method can help people mitigate the causes and symptoms of hyper-vigilance.

— Maximum 8 participants
— To reserve your spot please email your name and phone number to info@dare-dare.org
— Spots are limited so PLEASE, only register if you know you can really be there. THANKS!
— Address will be given when you have confirmed your participation the day before the lesson; email info@dare-dare.org by 3pm April 20
– read more about the Feldenkrais Method & Sarah’s work here –

Nothing In Nothing With Nothing (Not Even a Computer!), Cégep du Vieux Montréal

At the invitation of the Cégep du Vieux Montréal and as part of the 9th edition of their Semaine de la citoyenneté (Citizenship Week), I proposed a collective (non)action with students from the Cégep. Within their theme of “Technological Mutations: Between Ecstasy and Terror,” the school appointed a designated internet- & screen-free zone inside the student café, L’Exode, which they billed as a “Space of Resistance.”

Arriving upon the scene with the ubiquitous question: “Is it possible to create a space of Nothing, of rest and interval, smack dab in the middle of one’s day and one’s daily life?” – we found ourselves in the thick of a busy lunch hour; people getting sandwiches & coffee, eating and talking, and just milling about. And, with tremendous focus, we somehow managed to effectively carve out a legitimate moment of pause. A good 45 minutes together, in silence, some of us seriously spacing out, eyes open, others half-napping eyes closed… daydreaming, dozing, still. It was blissful.

In the conversation that followed, the participants themselves remarked on the quality of their presence and the fact that being in a group made it more possible to engage – and sustain – this continuous mode of idleness. The collective experience, it would seem, gave us a frame inside which we could enact our moment of quiet together; at once separate individuals, yet sharing a common objective. And, as separate from the bustle in the café around us, we were still very much part a part of the goings-on in this space. This demarcated area of collective rest (we actually were sitting on a slightly elevated stage) deepened a sense of self-awareness (individual & collective) and capacity for abandon… the possibility of just letting go… of responding internally to the waves and rhythms of the café and the shifting pulses of the room with our precise gesture of stillness.

Winnie-the-Pooh Helps Me Out With A Short Presentation About Nothing

Winnie-the-Pooh On Nothing (from The House at Pooh Corner, with thanks to Louise Dubreuil)

As part of the Mile End Poets’ Festival, I’ll be giving a Short Presentation About Nothing. A kind of performative lecture bringing together bits & pieces of readings, reflections, actions (and non-actions) that all point to the very paradoxical and ever-so-stimulating notion of Doing Nothing. I’ll also be sharing the stage with two of Montreal’s finest poet/performers, Kaie Kellough and Tanya Evanson, along with musical act Skin Tone.

Where: Casa del popolo, 4873 St-Laurent
When: April 4, 2017; doors open at 8pm, show starts at 9pm
How much: $7

– read more about the festival here –

Post-Talk Thoughts: Curtis & Carly on Doing Nothing

A small group of keeners braved the snow storm this past March 15 to come out and partake in the informal conversation being led by Curtis Murphy and Carly Gaylor, two young Unitarian ministers who will soon be starting their own “slow ministry” in Hamilton Ontario.

As the third in the series of Talking About Nothing With… this was Curtis and Carly’s first time “giving ministry” (as it were) as a duo, taking the opportunity to test the waters as a couple. (What can I say, I am so honoured!)

And so, a short presentation by Carly and then by Curtis was followed by an animated conversation over tea and homemade banana bread – excellent items to be consuming in a storm.

Here below, a smattering of some of the bite-sized reflections that were shared…

First off, before we even got there, I was at my partner’s place during which time he was teasing me for not cancelling the talk. “Everything is closed today because of the snow, even McGill University! And you’re still having your talk?! You are so determined.” To which I replied, “Yeah… it’s because it’s in the evening and it’s inside (unlike most of my other gatherings, which are more weather-sensitive because of taking place outdoors). People will have had time to shovel, and we’ll be cozy in the DARE-DARE trailer.”

Then, as if on cue, Curtis appeared (he and Carly are temporarily my partner’s roommates while Curtis finishes up seminary school) and he says: “Well, everyone has something to do, so all their somethings are cancelled. But have nothing to do. So there’s nothing to cancel.”

…BOOM!

More quotes from Curtis:

“This whole ‘work/life balance’ idea needs to be revisited; it assumes that work is separate from life…We’re starting from a terrible place if work is not a part of life.”

“We’re experimenting with a Digital Sabbath; how it is we make less screen time in our downtime. It started when I asked myself, ‘What’s the thing that I default to which is taking me away from what I really want to do?’ When you take away the default mode (in my case and for many people, reverting to a computer or tablet, or phone) it leaves room for something else. So at first when I began limiting my internet use I had lots of anxiety. But then that eventually gave way to huge space – to more time…!”

“Often we’re struggling against the currents in our own lives, of everything circulating around us, in order to do nothing, or less, or slow…”

And Carly shared an anecdote which for her represented a definitive moment in her desire to want to initiate a “slow ministry.” She described having been called in to do supplemental work for a church out west, and how all the members of the parish were working like fiends. They took on tons of projects, in an effort to stay contemporary and bring in more members, but the end result in the community around her was stress and burnout. At one point during her tenure there Carly realized that this is exactly the kind of operation she did not want to be part of. From there on she began to let go of more and more responsibilities, preferring instead to do less, but do things with greater calm and presence.

“Taking on more and more and more just causes more anxiety. So I had a revelation, a rule of thumb that became my ‘ministry to myself’: I like slower…”

The question of “freedom” in connection to the “right to choose rest” came up, but how this sense of freedom can in fact end up undermining our freedom – a kind of “Capitalism as Freedom” whereby, like in the realm of capitalism (and our unspoken obligation to be a part of this system), “We’re forced to be free.”

This lead to a brief discussion on the question of “limitations” and whether limits are necessary, I.e: deciding to do less, to stop working, to make space for unproductive time. “How do we institute limitations and it not feel like punishment?”, One person asked.

…Or shame. We came back to that (very prescient and ubiquitous) idea of how doing less or doing little is often equated with a lack: of strength, of discipline, of morality. How we are trained from a very young age to go into the world as productive beings as this is also a proof of (good) health.

…So the new ministry, as Curtis and Carly described, is definitely trying to “think outside the box,” wishing to address all these issues and more, looking toward “Doing Nothing” as a communal act.

…As Curtis aptly put it: “…I feel as though I am reclaiming time as a spiritual quest.”

Doing Nothing, Micronesian Style

The following reflection comes from a book called Today’s Gift: Daily Meditations for Families in which an inspirational quote is followed by a brief explanation as applied to daily life. This one about Doing Nothing appears in the July 4 entry (with thanks to Pohanna Pyne-Feinberg, for sending it my way!):

“In Micronesian, there’s a word, kukaro, which has no corresponding word in English. When people say they are going to kukaro, they mean they are going to relax, sit around, and hang out. They are being, not doing.” –Eli and Beth Halpern

As children, our best times are often trips to an amusement park, fishing at the lake, camping, or just sitting idly under a tree. These make the best memories, and times sitting around a campfire roasting marshmallows or having a root beer after a family outing seem to bring out the love we share.

We don’t seem to be accomplishing anything at these times. No chores are getting done around the house, no schoolwork, no repairs, and no moneymaking.

But these times of peace, relaxation, and a sense of endless time of being, not doing, may be essential to our ability to get other things done later. Certainly we are most receptive to our feelings, new ideas, and unplanned adventures at these moments. Maybe we should add kukaro to our vocabulary.

Allen Ginsberg on Doing Nothing (1974)

A re-posting of Vince Tinguely’s, who brought this wonderful quote to my attention:

I’m interested in meditation, in exploring inner space, in a certain political movement which would involve a sit-in in Washington where hundreds of thousands of people would just go to Washington and sit down. Ten hours on Monday, for ten days, ten hours a day, doing nothing but sitting. I’d like to see that. That many people doing nothing would create such a pool of nothing-doing that it just wouldn’t contribute to the aggression that’s going around. I’d like to see Nixon sit down and do nothing for a while and take a rest, stop working so hard.

– Allen Ginsberg, from ‘A Conversation’ in Composed On The Tongue, August 8, 1974