It’s understood that fasting is beneficial. Our bodies are dulled by the monotony of three meals a day for the entirety of our existence. We need more variation than that. We need to feel hunger, to function without fuel, to be able to go for long periods—8, 12, 16, 24, 36, 48 hours—without food.
But what about fasting for the mind? It’s recognised that temporarily depriving the body of nutrients is healthy and brings back some of it’s sharpness. But what about our mind?
For the mind to fast, we need to deprive it of its chief nutrient; stimulation. Under the banner of stimulation we can include information absorbed from social media, TV, music, books, films, or anything else we find on the internet. We can also include sensory information like touch and taste and smell, as well as social stimuli, like interaction with other people.
Besides the benefits of fasting (for the mind and the body), there’s another issue to consider. Pascal quipped that a lot of humanity’s problems arise from its inability to sit in a room alone with itself. I sympathise with that idea. We—in the West at least—find it very hard to do nothing. Or to do something for no purpose at all. Every minute, every moment, every action, has to be directed towards a desired end. Even something whose purpose is to have no purpose; meditation. Read outlets like Fast Company and you’ll see them promoting meditation as a stress management tool, as something that aids powers of concentration, as something that can solve world hunger. But if you undertake the practice of meditation for some specific end, it’s not meditation. As Alan Watts said:
“...meditation is different from the sort of things that people are supposed to take seriously. It doesn't have any purpose, and when you talk about practicing meditation, it's not like practicing tennis or playing the piano, which one does in order to attain a certain perfection. You practice music to become better at it, maybe even with the idea that you may someday go on stage and perform. But you don't practice meditation that way, because if you do, you are not meditating."
So that’s what I want to experiment with. First, fasting for the mind, and second, doing something for no purpose at all. With those two things in mind, I came up with the idea of a “Do Nothing Day”. It’s pretty self-explanatory. Spend one working day, roughly eight hours, doing nothing.
I don’t mean do nothing the way you would when you’re on holiday, lying by the pool. I mean, quite literally, do nothing. To describe it more fully, allow me to outline some ground rules.
I’ve written about the cycles of life, of the things I would like to do daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. I think having a Do Nothing Day, an extended fast for the mind, is something we should do every month, maybe even every week. Because we spend so much of our lives hooked up, plugged in and open to stimuli, we need to periodically remind ourselves what it is to do nothing and be unstimulated.
And I think that by doing this, by being deliberately still and undisturbed, we’ll also learn to better understand the what, how and why of our life when we’re not still. Perhaps by deliberately depriving ourselves of stimuli and coming to a state of stillness, we can increase the effectiveness of our actions.