Lessons in doing nothing.
There’s a new kid on the block and its name is niksen.
First, we had hygge, the Danish concept that made staying in and getting cosy sound like bliss. Then, there was lagom, the Swedish mindset of approaching life with an “everything in moderation” mindset. Now, this new Northern European trend that’s being embraced to combat our increasingly busy and often stressful lives, is niksen. The Dutch concept is as simple as, well, doing nothing.
Niksen “literally means to do nothing, to be idle or doing something without any use.”
Now at first this may sound like absolute bliss. If I said to you, go and spend an hour doing nothing, how does it make you feel? Does it sound like bliss? Does it make you feel anxious? Does it fill you with horror at all the things that will build up for you to do, when you return to your life?
Stop right now and have a think about doing nothing for the next half an hour.
Not as easy as you thought, right?
Practicing niksen could look like just hanging around, looking at your surroundings, or listening to music, as long as it’s without purpose and not done in order to achieve something or be productive.
Doing nothing used to be classed as lazy or mindless but in these stressful times we now have reframed this to see the benefits of doing nothing, as an antidote to our ever busy and switched-on lives. From the moment we wake, to the time we close our eyes, we have a tendency to fill every gap in our day with something. Be that work, jobs in the home, watching tv, scrolling on our phones and so on.
Mindfulness, a practice we are all now familiar with, is the practice of doing something mindfully, without judgment. For example, making and drinking a cup of tea, walking mindfully, doing some art or craft with a mindful attitude. This is a wonderful thing to bring into your life and one I encourage all my clients to do. But niksen is a new concept to me and one that brings a new challenge.
I recently spent a week away, dog and house sitting for a friend. I went on my own, so it was just myself and the dog for company. I had no work, no housework, no child duties, no appointments, nothing I had to do. I thought this would feel like bliss, but after the euphoria of the first day, most of which I slept, a lot, the second day I felt a little lost. I had things I wanted to ‘get done’ and I noticed when I did some work, I felt a sense of achievement.
While this felt good, here was my first lesson,
To embrace the concept of niksen I had to let go of the need to achieve.
I am no stranger to living alone or being in my own company. To love your own company is an incredibly important thing to do. It can be freeing and empowering to do so.
I can occupy my time no problem and, on this week, I was able to read when I wanted to, get up at my leisure, do some yoga, walk down to the waterfront, watch the foot ferry and boats coming and going, do some doodling, one of my favourite mindful activities, and all of that was bliss.
I decided to try and incorporate moments of niksen into each day. This was harder to do. How does one do nothing without purpose or to achieve anything?
I had an idea I would start on my train journey down to Devon, but alas that wasn’t meant to be. I had this romantic image of sitting in my reserved seat by the window, watching the countryside go by, in blissful silence. After the train being delayed by half an hour, due to the guard having a heated discussion with a cyclist, many of the passengers were already a little tense. The train had also been ‘shortened in carriages’ which meant that reserved seating was now defunct. The seating was a free for all, with many passengers sitting and squashed into the isles. There was no space for luggage and therefore I sat with my carry-on under my legs for the journey, making the whole thing a little uncomfortable.
Once on our way, there was another delay at another station, whilst the police delt with some poor soul who wished to try and make their way onto the track. I can gladly report they were taken away and I hope given the care they clearly needed.
Let the train take the strain they said…this wasn’t how it looked on the adverts. Anyway, there was no niksen taking place on that journey!
Here was another lesson in niksen: you can’t plan your moments of nothing.
The next time I tried was after a yoga practice, laying back on my mat in shavasana. Now this I am used to, but I am also aware it can be one of the hardest poses to do in yoga. Not physically, but mentally. Have you ever done yoga where you lay down to relax at the beginning and your mind is full of chatter? The difference in doing the same thing at the end of your practice can be huge. To lay back after a class, where hopefully you have moved your body, gently, mindfully and at your own pace through movement, allows your mind to slow down. Then, once laying back on your mat, at the end of practice, it can be a delicious release, where you allow the body to relax, one muscle at a time. At the same time this happens your mind also lets go, one thought at a time.
The art of shavasana, to me, is the same principle I say to my clients after having a massage.
I say ‘please do not hurry to get up off the couch. At least lay there for a few moments to allow the mind and body to assimilate and just be.’ This is the same in shavasana. The secret is to not be thinking, ‘right I’ve done my class, now what do I need to do after this? Come on, let’s get up now, I need to get on.’ The secret is to lie there and enjoy the act of doing nothing.
So, my next lesson in niksen: it was easier with a relaxed body, to allow a relaxed mind drift from no particular thought to another.
Another moment of niksen I incorporated into my week was listening to a piece of music, while doing nothing else at the same time. I noticed the ‘pull’ to ‘do’ but resisted and enjoyed the music even more for really listening. I love music with a passion, so to have this moment to do nothing else but immerse myself in the music and allow it to wrap itself around me felt like absolute bliss.
This niksen lesson here: doing nothing is easier when you are doing something you love.
Another time I tried cloud watching. When I did this, it not only took me back to my childhood, but I also noticed how I got lost in the process. I was able to spend ages watching the cloud formation and watching the drifts move across the beautiful blue sky I was lucky enough to be gazing at.
When you engage in niksen: be aware that time appears to slow down.
Allowing ourselves these moments of doing nothing has the same effect as meditation. It allows our breathing, heart rate and mind chatter to slow, our blood pressure to lower and gives you space to just be rather than do. After all, we are human beings not human doings.
So, to summarise, the lessons I gained from practicing niksen,
- Niksen cannot be planned.
- It is easier done when your body is relaxed.
- It is far easier when you are doing something you love.
- Be aware that time will appear to slow down and embrace this feeling.
- To embrace niksen you will need to let go of the need to achieve.
I hope this encourages you to try niksen for yourself. Try half an hour, five minutes or even just a moment. There will be many more lessons to be learned from the practice and you will gain your own insights from trying. That’s the joy of doing anything, what we learn along the way about our environment and ourselves is the best part of life’s journey.
With kindness and compassion,