Know thyself

February 20, 2021

Reflections on why we might resist doing the things that are good for us 

At the start of this year, I published a blog: Finding Time For A Spiritual Practice. It turned out to be a popular one, which suggests to me that finding time for a spiritual practice is something that plenty of people are grappling with.

I promised to follow it up with a series of blogs that include ‘time-efficient’ spiritual connection activities. So, here we go… 

Understanding patterns

This morning I came out to write this blog.

At the beginning of this month, I planned it into my monthly goals. At the start of this week, I set aside a specific time and day in my diary to write and complete it. I chose the morning because I write best in the morning: it’s when I’m more alert and ideas come to me more easily.

I chose Thursday because I had some other more time-sensitive things that I needed to complete earlier in the week. I thought about the best place I could write. I needed somewhere I wasn’t likely to get disturbed and, importantly, most unlikely to find other things to distract myself from the task.

I am now parked up in my little red van in a layby right next to Anglezarke Moor. I won’t get disturbed here, and I have a view out across to the Lancashire coast. I know here I will find my inspiration as I have done before, many times.

The only thing I slipped up with is that I have brought my phone with me, and I have a good signal. That's put me back about an hour as I have played around on social media and sorted through my emails. It's a delaying tactic!

You see, I know my patterns around resisting something that I need to do that I find difficult. I know what my stalling strategies are. I know what blocks I put up in my way. I know myself.

The Ancient Greeks were onto the need to know oneself.

The Temple of Apollo in Delphi was the centre of their world. Inscribed above the entrance to the temple forecourt were these words: ‘know thyself’, according to the Greek writer Pausanias. These two words have inspired philosophers through the ages and informed Socrates throughout his entire career. I rather like these two words too.

Awareness means choice. I am aware of my patterns and can consciously choose to overcome these blocks I put up in my way. This makes the difference between intending to write a blog and getting around to writing and completing one.

So, you might be wondering why I have described my morning in such detail?

It’s because knowing my blocks and how to overcome them also applies to my spiritual practice. And it’s just the same when it comes to allowing myself downtime to play. And when it comes to doing things that are good for my health, such as exercise and having a good diet. 

Finding the time for a spiritual practice

When it comes to receiving spiritual guidance, I get information from my spirit guides when I’m out and about on walks, or having conversations with friends, or just generally going about my daily life.

However, I also need to set aside time to carry out specific activities to help me connect more deeply with the spiritual realm. Just as with writing this blog, I have learnt that I need to schedule these activities in. I need to plan what it is that I am going to do and when I am going to do it.

For example, I might schedule a time I’m going to go on a shamanic journey to ask a specific question. Or write into my diary when I am going to go to the woods for some nature time. Or I might leave a whole afternoon free now and then to do… wait for it… nothing. I call this ‘Empty Bowl Time’, and I will come on to why in a moment. First, though, I would like to dip into a little theory and begin to answer this question:

Why don’t I always make time for the things that are good for me?

A friend raised this question in her response to my previous blog and I rather like the wording she has used. I have been working on this for quite some time as this was one of the things that I started to address when I first started therapy sessions in my late twenties. I often reflect on the reasons and have uncovered a number of them throughout the years. I will describe the key ones in this series of time-related blogs over the coming months.

Today, the first I would like to share is the simple fact that the reason I don’t always make time for the things that are good for me is because I am prioritising something else that I deem more important. I am prioritising my need to feel productive. I am prioritising my need to work.

I talked in my previous blog about how I have grown up with the conditioning that I need to work above all else. It began with the regime of school, punctuated every thirty-five minutes by the sound of a bell. It then continued through my career as an environmental consultant and then sustainability manager.

When I set up my own business, after removing the external boss, I discovered that I had grown my own very strict and most imposing ‘internal boss’. It was this awareness that made me explore why this had all come about. I ended up looking back quite a long way, several hundred years in fact, right back to the Industrial Revolution.

Something happened back then that turned a culture of ‘idlers’ into what Tom Hodgkinson calls Servants of Capitalism’.

Tom Hodgkinson is a British writer. Educated at Cambridge University, he started work as a journalist, brought ‘to tears’ by the age of 23 he set up a magazine with his friend Gavin Pretor-Pinney called The Idler.

In his book ‘How to Be Idle’, Hodgkinson sets out how the people of Britain became ‘Servants of Capitalism’, or as Bertrand Russell puts it in his 1982 essay ‘In Praise of Idleness, a ‘Slave State’’.

I will give a potted version of history here, but I thoroughly recommend putting How to Be Idle on your reading list if this interests you, a book that in Hodgkinson’s own words ‘celebrates laziness and attacks the work culture of the western world, which has enslaved, demoralised and depressed so many of us’.

I initially found it hard to believe the fact that people haven’t always had to work so hard. I was taught that the Industrial Revolution was a good thing and that it brought prosperity and higher standards of living. That is, we are better off being alive today than our ancestors were three hundred years ago. Yet, the more I look into this, I find myself being convinced otherwise.

The English historian E. P. Thompson, in his classic book The Making of the English Working Class (1963), argues that the creation of the job is a relatively recent phenomenon and the average man enjoyed a much greater degree of independence than today.

For example, before the Spinning Jenny was invented, weavers were self-employed and worked when they chose to. They had control over their time and weaved when they pleased, with enough money to rent a small piece of land to grow their food. Freidrich Engels wrote in his 1845 study The Condition of the Working Class in England that ‘weavers did not need to overwork; they did no more than they chose to do, and yet earned what they needed.’

Thompson goes on to write how bouts of intensive labour were followed by idleness, much like the ebb and flow of a river.  He reflects on how:

‘in 1820, the middle-class observer John Foster noted with horror that agricultural labourers, having finished their work, were left with ‘several hours in the day to be spent nearly as they please … They will … for hours together … sit on a bench, or lie down on a bank or hillock … yielded up to utter vacancy and torpor.’

This posed a problem to capitalists in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries as they needed a ready workforce in order to work their mills and mine the coal to power the machinery. The capitalists needed to transform a population of independently-minded and strong-willed idlers into a disciplined and grateful, hardworking workforce.

A solution was found through the imposition of the new Protestant work ethic as the capitalists used religion as one way to create this message. God was ruthlessly brought in by the capitalists to manipulate the masses. It was God’s will that you worked hard. Thompson wrote that ‘not only the “sack”; but the flames of Hell might be the consequence of indiscipline at work’.

The other way of converting the rural idlers into industrious workers was hunger. Keeping people hungry ensured they would work to earn more money. Then to make them work even harder, they were paid less.

All these factors led to the delusion of a love and intense desire to work, well beyond the point at which an individual is exhausted. Fast-forward to the 21st century, and although the type of work is very different, as well as the pay scale, I can relate to this in respect to how I view work.

Back when I was working in a career within the corporations, I certainly had ‘a love and intense desire to work, well beyond the point at which I was exhausted’. Now I work for myself I still have a ‘desire to work beyond the point that is good for me’.

My life is very different now, and I have a handle on this, but I am still working on it. I am still putting work before my health, wellbeing, time out doing restorative things. I am still turning on my computer in the morning before I have done a sequence of stretches that I know will help my backache. I am still writing out a list of jobs I need to carry out on Saturday morning before I allow myself the rest of the weekend off. I am still working five days in return for two days of downtime.

And I know I am not alone in this.

As Oscar Wilde pointed out, ‘doing nothing is hard work’.

Kestrel focus

I have used my spiritual practice to help me ‘idle’. Connecting with the spiritual realm means disconnecting from this modern world that’s focused on work and being productive. Spiritual connection is about losing that internet connection for a short while, longer if possible, to plug into another kind of connection: one that is far more ancient.

I decided yesterday evening that the first thing I would do to start my blog was journey to Kestrel. If you have read my blog from last month, you will know that Kestrel has come to me as an animal spirit guide to help me with ‘insight’.

This morning, I was both fascinated and delighted by the synchronicity as I turned out of our lane and headed up towards the moors. As I drove down the road a kestrel swooped in front of my van and led the way for several seconds. I was literally being guided by Kestrel!

Once I had arrived in my layby spot, I settled down in my van, pressed play on my drumming track that is on my phone and journeyed to Kestrel. I began at my Axis Mundi, which is an oak tree. I walked down to my tribe in the Lowerworld, and there was Kestrel, hovering high in the sky above the centre of the camp.

When I asked Kestrel what I should write about today, I heard the words ‘we need to get back to our indigenous ways, to how our ancestors lived. Write about the ancestral lifestyle’. The whole journey took less than ten minutes. That’s just ten minutes to receive the spiritual guidance I was looking for, but I had to schedule it in my diary to get around to going on the journey to receive it

Kestrels guidance led me to think of writing about the work ethic that came about through the Industrial Revolution and why this was, touching in on what life was like before the ‘creation of the job’.

If not kept in check, my life can be full of schedules. It wasn’t always this way, and there is a reason why our lives are so full, and why it is hard to make time to do the things that will most nurture us, the fun things. Play isn’t seen as productive time in the capitalist model. Play is not earning money for someone, somewhere.

Yet, when I have downtime, out in nature, hanging out with my friends and family and generally idling about, ideas pop into my head. My life would be a lot richer if I did more lounging about, but it is a tough one to nail. 

Doing nothing is hard

The idea of doing nothing came to me several years ago through an unusual encounter. You may well know that Jason and I have a cat called Blue as he joins from time to time in our online gatherings.

Blue sleeps in the kitchen at night. One morning I came downstairs to find his drinking water bowl had moved about six feet and was now positioned in the centre of the kitchen. The water had vanished and the bowl was empty.

Naturally, Jason and I were puzzled. I went on a shamanic journey to my spirit guides to ask what the meaning was. I was told, ‘the bowl is empty, Nicola’. After coming back from the journey, I googled the symbology and was led to a Taoist philosophy called The Empty Bowl.

The idea behind The Empty Bowl philosophy is the importance of creating space in your life for nothing. If the bowl is full of cereal, it is a cereal bowl. If it is full of nuts, it is a nut bowl. But if the bowl is empty, there is an infinite potential for what it can be. It is the same with our lives. If we fill our lives with things to do, then we don’t allow space for the infinite possibilities to come through.

We need to unplug and create space for nothing.

I find it hard to do nothing. But I make a point of scheduling in time in my diary to do just that: nothing. This looks like Saturdays with no plans and nothing to do, or random afternoons during the week when I shut my laptop down and head off in my little red van to see where I end up. It looks like time out sitting in a woodland with my drum to see what happens. Once I did this at the height of Spring, and a hare walked right past me. She was close enough to touch. She stared me in the eye, then turned her head to sniff a bluebell, and then walked on. Just magical.

The book I am currently reading is called How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy by Jenny Odell. Here is what she says in her opening paragraph about doing nothing:

“Nothing is harder to do than nothing. In a world where our value is determined by our productivity, many of us find our every last minute captured, optimised, or appropriated as a financial resource by the technologies we use daily. We submit our free time to numerical evaluation, interact with algorithmic versions of each other, and build and maintain personal brands.”

She goes on to say:

“We still recognise that much of what gives one’s life meaning stems from accidents, interruptions, and serendipitous encounters: the “off time” that a mechanistic view of experience seeks to eliminate.”

It is really hard to unplug. I noticed that it wasn’t just hard for me when we were running a day workshop one weekend. During the afternoon, we set the task for people to going out and choose a stone from the river and then sit in the valley for an hour. Jason and I explained that we would be waiting by the bridge for the duration of the hour, and then when the time was up, we would meet everyone here and walk back together.

What surprised us was that once some people had chosen their stone, they came straight back to us. Others spent five or ten minutes sitting down somewhere but then they returned. Only a few people lasted the whole hour out there, sitting in nature with nothing to do. In this instance, there was nothing to get back for. We weren’t going anywhere, and we were all driving back together. Yet, people chose to congregate by the bridge together rather than sit quietly in nature by themselves.

It struck me how hard it is just to go outside and sit in nature and do nothing. I find it hard to allow myself to do it, and others did too, even when we gave them permission and instruction to do so. And yet nature time is one of the main ways for us to receive our spiritual guidance.

This brings me on to the final piece in this article.  

Spiritual connection activities

In my previous blog I said I would set some time-efficient activities to help create time and space for a spiritual practice. So, here is the first one:

Activity 1: 1-hour doing nothing

This task is simple: go and sit in nature, without distraction, for 1-hour.

Now I have set this activity with the awareness that here in the UK, as we are in lockdown, we aren’t allowed to do this beyond our homes. For the time being, modify this activity and if you have a garden, back yard or balcony, sit here instead for the hour rather than out in the countryside.

If you live in a flat and do not have access to space outside then watch a video of nature instead. For premium members of our Mystery School, we have a perfect video for this: Mere Sands Wood Meditation. For non-members you will find something suitable via google, but make sure you choose something without music that has just nature-based sounds and is long.

If you are reading this on the other side of lockdown, or in a country where the lockdown restrictions aren’t in place, then go and find a place in nature. It doesn’t matter where. It could be a park where there are people or a place in the countryside where you aren’t going to come across anyone. If you feel you need to take your phone for safety reasons, do so, but keep it turned off, so you are not disturbed.

Now, here is the trick. Do nothing.

  • Don't write in your journal
  • Don't check your phone
  • Don't have a snooze

Just sit there and observe.

Observe the environment you are in. Observe your thoughts. And most of all, observe your resistance to this activity.

  • When did the resistance start?
  • Right now, as you are reading this? 
  • When you were scheduling a time?
  • When you were preparing for the activity?
  • When you were sitting out in nature for the hour?
  • When during the hour?
  • What form did the resistance take?
  • Thoughts in your head?
  • A bodily sensation?

Once you have completed the hour, journal your experience. Whatever came up for you around resistance is information for you on your spiritual path. Whatever pattern was realised through this process is something for you to work on.

Some examples I can share in my own process are that I say to myself beforehand, ‘I haven’t got time for this, it’s not productive enough', and when I am carrying it out, I notice the impulse I have to check my phone. These are ongoing things I am working on! Yours may be the same or different, but I find it a very insightful process.

I have another couple of activities to suggest to build on this. It doesn’t matter what order you do these three activities.

Activity 2: Journeying to Kestrel

The second activity is to go on a shamanic journey to seek insights from Kestrel.

The intention for your journey is to ask for insights on your resistance. It might be your resistance to your spiritual practice, or resistance to spending time by yourself, or resistance to something else.

If you are a member of The Mystery School, then you can tick this activity off with us this coming Monday, 22nd February, as it’s our monthly shamanic journey circle night. We will be journeying to Kestrel to get insights into our resistance. If you can’t make it on the night there will be the replay to watch.

If you are new to shamanic journeying and don’t know how to go about doing this, we have our free shamanic journeying foundation course that you can access via this link.

I have been exploring resistance within me for some time, well over a decade: my resistance to say no, my resistance to play, and so on. It’s interesting stuff to explore on the spiritual path.

Activity 3: Leaving your bowl empty

The third activity is to give The Empty Bowl a try. Look in your diary and set aside some time to do nothing. This could be anything from a couple of hours to a whole day. Leave the bowl empty and see what fills it.

I did this for the first time several years ago. I ended up driving to the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire and had the best day just pottering about. Since then, Bowland has become a very special place for me now and the place I go to unplug as I can’t get a phone reception there. I still create Empty Bowl sessions, just leaving space empty to see what I end up doing.

A few final words

To wrap up, I would like to revisit that question I posed earlier: why don’t I always make time for the things that are good for me?’

Today I have looked at one of the reasons why: how growing up in a capitalist society has led me to place work above ‘none productive pursuits’ - that is things that are good for me but that aren’t valued in our economy.

There are other reasons as well, and in the next article in my ‘Finding Time’ blog series, I am going to talk about self-worth as a barrier to making time for myself.

In the meantime, you have one month to go on a shamanic journey, go and sit outside for an hour, and experience ‘Empty Bowl Time’. That is a maximum total of between ½ a day and 1 ½ days’ time, depending on how much time you can give to your Empty Bowl session.

Just as a heads up, at the time of writing this blog it is worth noticing that we are approaching the Spring Equinox, which is a time for balance. The Spring Equinox is an opportunity to draw a marker in the sand and move forward with a commitment to approach things differently.

On the day of the Spring Equinox, we are holding a free online celebration and ceremony. It will be on Saturday 20th March, starting at 7 pm and it will be recorded so if you aren’t able to come along on the night you can catch up with the replay afterwards.

This gathering will be a great opportunity to set intentions for moving forward and addressing your patterns of resistance that you identify through these activities I have suggested today. So, if you like the sounds of this, pop the date and time in your diary and watch out for the registration email that we will send out the week before.

I hope you have enjoyed my article and would love to hear your thoughts in the comment box below.

Further resources

If you have enjoyed this blog, you might also find these other two blogs interesting:

January 18, 2021

Finding Time for a Spiritual Practice

September 5, 2018

Procrastinating to Greatness

If you aren’t already on our mailing list and would like to be you can sign up using the box on our home page. We hold regular free online events to help you dip into the spiritual practice that we teach and make announcements about these in our mailing list.

And finally, if you wanted to explore going deeper with us, check out The Mystery School as a time-efficient and affordable way to learn about Shamanism and nature connection. We would love to share this adventure with you.

About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in Anglezarke on the edge of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire, England.
Following a career in corporate sustainability, she now runs The Way of the Buzzard with her husband Jason. Her passion is anything connected to nature and the mysteries of the Earth.

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  1. Lived this blog , it totally resonated with where I am at today. I decided today I was going to leave ‘ empty space’ and not have anything on my schedule . Of course there was resistance. Everything you said is just so bang on about the things I’ve been thinking about lately ; the importance of giving my spiritual practices more prioritised space and time ( because what I receive in those times is priceless ), this petulant resistance, how the ‘ work ethic of capitalism and industrial revolution’ has programmed us deeply and our need to get back to the ways of our ancestors. I felt like you had written the blog for me ! Except it’s the buzzard that has been calling to me over this last year 🙂


    1. Amazing to hear how these words have landed… or rather how I have read your mind Elizabeth. The programme is really deep isn’t it. Fascinating to have this awareness and then notice the resistance as we try to de-programme.

  2. Beautiful Nicola and so apt – that is just what I battle with having been in education since the age of 4 and just retired- it’s scary to be transitioning from such institutional thinking . You are so right – having space to simply ‘be’ is magical and I am enjoying having that space ( my bowl) to see what comes into it . Thank you for your gentle and honest words which give me courage to walk further on this path and to shed my old skin and watch a new one grow x

    1. Thank you Sally, and congratulations on your retirement. I remember how odd it felt coming out of the corporations and having my days for me – all that space with no-one telling you what to do. So delighted that you have your magical empty bowl now 🙂 x

  3. This is a good blog and subject, thank you for putting your ideas, feelings, experience and observations into words. I know my stalling strategies and the blocks I put up in my way that stall me from doing the things I do not want to do. Although I am busy constantly with filming editing stuff for Edwina's and Danielle's on line course, I have actually mad 75 short films on herbalist and only just started panting again since lockdown. But I am painting again and synchronicity to this blog have been thinking how I can get back on the creative arty path. Yes I think to 'know thy self' is important and I am not really a long term planner, more intuitive. However I do need to crack on so have decided to create a book of my firs lot of artworks as well as continuing to paint. For this I will need structure and to know what distracts me so I can create and manifest a book and artworks and words. I perceive my path as an artist as a spiritual practice and I like what you say 'Awareness means choice. I am aware of my patterns' Pattern in live and in art is my speciality but it would help me a lot to focus and work through blocks. I think part of that is floating from one thing to another and not being structured.
    When it comes to spiritual guidance, I get this from creating, immersing in nature, walks and also like you conversations with friends, or just generally going about my daily life. My specific activities to help connect more deeply with the spiritual realm is creating art, more than journeying. As it changes my perspective and ability to think about whatever is on my mind from quantum physics to focusing on subjects that enable the path forward in spirituality and life. I would say my creative proses is like journeying as it opens my mind to Lucid dreaming at nigh.
    Presently it is good because I have not focused or create major art for about 10 months so the analogy of the Taoist philosophy of The Empty Bowl. To enable the bowl to be filed with new ideas and creations. Synchronicity is I am trying a new approach and thinking of the new image entitled 'Freedom' to embrace summer and the beginning of autumn and being distracted by editing, has allowed my creative ability to flourish in the empty bowl and think a little differently.
    I like what you say, about prioritising something else that you deem more important with the need to feel productive, prioritising work. Lucky my work is art and a big part of my spiritual path.
    However like you and most everyone I was conditioned with the work ethic from school to work and all the triggers to work very hard or not be valued or respected. My key moment was getting divorced and thinking, why am a working so hard and getting nowhere fast. I chatted with the people I worked with and many had been there for 20 or even 30 years. So I took the plunge to go to art college became a successful illustrator for publishing, still working hard but as my own boss. but like you I also looked into ancestral stuff most of my know relatives were Eastern European and had very difficult traumatic lives, the ancestral trams will have undoubtedly been passed down to me. I even went to Lithuania to seek out my family history with an interpreter for one of the days, but the lived brutal lives and half of the documentations were lost during world wars. Although it was a fascinating journey and helped me realise its up to us to heal ancestral trauma. I don't think that we are better off than our ancestors from 300 or even 3000 years ago. and like you more I look into this, I find myself not being convinced by historians. The constant program of the hard work ethic keeps many in servitude to the few. This all ties in to ancestral pain and the trauma felt for as far back as the brutal Roman conquest, to the Normans, land grabs, enclosure acts, witch hunts, industrial revolutions, world wars and other conflicts to name a few. So its fair to say that most of humanity and collective consciousness has been under attack and traumatized for a long time, by the few who still control countries.
    As for your examples of being Idle and 'before the Spinning Jenny was invented, weavers were self-employed and worked when they chose to. independently-minded and strong-willed idlers into a disciplined and grateful, hardworking workforce.
    The spiritual and creative connection for me is a process of letting go of everything and getting into a zone to create, thinking and daydreaming is part of this process. However I know from experience that people around me may say I am wasting time or lazy because I getting myself in the moment of letting go. Sadly we are all programmed to police each other with the work ethic and when people are busy, but an artist is daydreaming or thinking, they often get accused of being lazy or worse doing nothing to help others.
    Anyway back to the book, I have created the artwork, photographed it to print quality, wrote the words to support each artwork and now just have to focus on making it happen
    I think you are very skilled and lucky to be able to journey so well with your Kestrel, Axis Mundi, tribe in the Lower world, and the synchronicity of a Kestrel, the journey and story you weave is very beautiful. Also you get answers to your questions. My method of manifesting art is to create a mythology around every image and work within the title framework of my body of work 'Ancestors Awakening' and 'The Journey North' also the subject of Mesolithic and Neolithic symbolism, spiritual ancient places places, archetypal subjects and the mythology I create around each painting, that I see as a journey The answers I get when creating often blows my mind and become part of the artwork as it evolves.
    Like you I find it hard to do nothing because of my programming and at one point when I was a documentary filmmaker I was a workaholic. I was making lots of money but having no life as was filming, editing, pulling jobs into focus and masking an action plane of how to approach it. But one day out of the blue 10 years ago I decided to stop filmmaking and go back to visual arts, mainly painting and photography. My income dropped massively but I learnt to let go, spend more time with my family, friends, create from my imagination and to live a better more balanced life.
    The book How to Do Nothing sounds good and this quote: “We still recognise that much of what gives one’s life meaning stems from accidents, interruptions, and serendipitous encounters: the “off time” that a mechanistic view of experience seeks to eliminate.”
    I have done this exercise of sitting in nature, without distraction, for at least 1-hour. and will do it again with this prompt to think about creative endeavours and journey to the imagination.
    Also the empty bowl and leaving your bowl empty sounds worth doing

    Thanks this article helped me put a few things into context.

    1. Great to read your reflections here Pete, and hear your journey and realisations. Steven Pressfields book The War of Art has really opened my eyes to how artists struggle to bring their gifts into the world and how to overcome these challenges. It is great to see you bringing your art through in the way you do.

  4. Another excellent blog, Nicola, and so true! We have all been conditioned from early in our lives to think that work is "good" and "play" is "a waste of time". I imagine that many people have found this last year very difficult because of this if they have had to be furloughed from work or lost their jobs whilst others may have been working harder than ever. Also the lack of opportunity to be "entertained" at the cinema or theatre or to be able to go out for a meal or a drink will have left people with a lot of time they don't usually have. Even after almost 15 years' of retirement, I still sometimes struggle to allow myself to be idle. A friend and I used to say that we could never find the time to sit down and read because there always seemed to be other things that needed doing and we felt guilty taking time out to read. So we went on a "reading holiday". We stayed at a very nice hotel in the Lake District for 3 nights, dinner, bed and breakfast. It was August but the weather was not particularly good. We never left the hotel grounds but sat in the lounge or outside or in their summer house to read and discuss what we were reading. At breakfast, the other guests would ask us at the juice bar or wherever, where we were going that day and when we said we weren't going anywhere because we were on a reading holiday, they thought it was very strange!. Even the staff seemed perturbed by us and kept asking if we needed anything – drinks or something for lunch or whatever even though we had not booked to have lunch. We had a lovely time.

  5. This reminds me of a poem I wrote many years ago. I will see if I can find it and write it into the FB group. I definitely need to procrastinate less. Stop fussing and learn to relax into doing nothing. Looking forward to Monday evening ??

  6. Thank you for posting your Blog.
    Thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
    Especially referencing Greek and Industrial Revolution Quotes . Memories of school lessons on said subjects.
    At the moment I am laid up with a broken ankle. Which i got after enjoying a walk through the snow to collect my prescription from the Chemist ! my only walk in a week.
    Now i have plenty of ME Time. To learn, watch and listen, reflect and rely on others in a minimal way ( Covid restrictions permitting). Cant get out of the house yet, but have windows on the outside world, ones that open wide too.
    I am discovering more about me than i have done for a long time.
    Your writing is inspirational and much appreciated.

    1. Thank you Pauline, that is great to hear my writing is inspirational for you. How interesting that you have been stilled in this way. I was stilled when I broke my ankle several years ago and it was helpful as it slowed me down when I needed slowing down. Fascinating stuff

  7. Hello Nicola, so much appreciate your message today: Know thyself: wow that is a challenge, doing no thing (nothing), for as long as I remember i've not just done nothing, even listening to a lesson or watching a documentary etc on Gaia, I still knit or crochet even draw, sitting doing nothing, does not come natural :-(. As a child, if I was doing nothing, something was always found to do, as if we needed to be busy … crazy.
    I do take time in nature, love being outside, normally walking the dog, or working in the garden. I will see how resistant this challenge will be ;-).

    The bowl I do engage in this as some days I just see what I feel like doing, no planning, just going with the flow. I can resonate with second and third challenge, the first will be interesting to see, what unfolds.

    Look forward to seeing you on the 20th March

    much love to you, Jason and Blue

    1. Lovely to get a window into your world Linda. I also always seem to be ‘doing something’ until I consciously take myself off to do nothing! It will be interesting to hear what happens when you approach challenge 1 🙂

  8. This so resonates with me today as I have sat here all afternoon moving files and articles around on my phone and clearing emails. I had noticed earlier on that I start my day with best intentions to give myself time to meditate or exercise and have twice today had desires in the now moment to get up of the sofa and do some ecstatic tribal dancing or start my art therapy but have ignored and continued on sorting and organising my phone, oh and prior to this I started to clean the bathroom and that’s still not finished. I notice I am blocking myself from giving permission to myself to dance or meditate or just lay in mindfulness by finding things to organise and do. It was a beautiful sunny day here as well and a few times I thought I must get outside for a walk but again the organising my phone took over.

    Your article hit the spot and is written in such a beautiful way and I can visualuse you driving out into the countryside and watching the Kestrel and the Hare and am now placing thatvin my visual field for something to do for myself.

    I hope to join you on Spring Equinox and am diarising it right now.

    Much gratitude for this article



    1. So delighted you like my blog Fiona and I am smiling as I read your comment as I too have been organising and cleaning, and organising and cleaning… for most of the year so far it seems! Isn’t it interesting to observe the resistance – that is the first step. That is great to hear you are planning non joining us for the Equinox 🙂

  9. SO SO true. This spoke to me and I feel a great need now to practice Empty Bowl. And I think I need someone to TELL me that it's OKAY to do nothing for an hour!. It really IS OK.
    Because what can be better than sitting with Nature and hearing her messages….Bless you Nicola, for writing this, and striking that chord in I am sure so many other people….

  10. Thank you Nicola, I have that"don't have time "syndrome and always feel I have a list of other things to do. However, today is Saturday and I am lying on the sofa with a blanket . The cat fast asleep on the ba.c. of the sofa, very similar to your photo. I am lying here listening to the wind outside and in the chimney. Wild weather today in Scotland.

  11. So true. I have such resistance beforehand, and need to overcome it by reminding myself how good I will feel afterwards.
    What works for me (I'm largely bedbound, so don't get out in nature much) is to have a regular time, 5.30pm, for spiritual work. Between my late afternoon cuppa and making my dinner, I give myself half an hour to tune in to something. On a good day it might be a trance journey, on a low energy day it might be listening to sacred music or following a YouTube mindfulness practice. Or I might decide I'm not up to doing anything at all.
    But I try to at least pause and ask myself the question of will I do something?

    1. What a good idea, to set aside a specific time each day for connection and to vary it up like this. Thank you for your note Sylvia. I have never managed to be so disciplined but I like to think I might one day!

  12. Very Nice Nicola. It sure is a challenge to do what is good for me. Did you ever read Pip Pip by Jay Griffiths. All about this subject and erudite and funny and naughty!

      1. It's worth it, one of my favourite ever books – lots of fun as well as serious and beautifully written – a page turner 🙂

  13. My father always used to quote:

    What is this life , if full of care
    We have no time to stand and stare”

    ( From the poem Leisure by William Henry Davies)


    “To God I wish the gift to give me
    To see myself as others see me”

    (Robert Burns)

  14. Hi Nicola,
    What a coincidence, I've been thinking a lot about why I get in my own way recently. Its not a new subject for me but really elusive to resolve! I'm going to try these exercises and hopefully get some insight.
    Thank you, Helen

  15. Thank you for this Nicola- so much food for thought in this blog. And definitely something I will reread several times I think. One thing that struck me from this first reading concerns that ‘internal boss.’’
    My internal boss seems to be a construct, almost a caricature made up of the most tyrannical traits of all previous bosses. I will sit with this and ask if this serves me in any way. Though I suspect it’s time to wave goodbye to some of those monsters. I’ve saved reading this til the end of the day and will take these thoughts into my dreams. But first I need to Google the word ‘torpor’ though I’m not sure if this urge comes from curiosity or resistance!
    Thank you once again. ??❤️

    1. Thank you for your reflections here Liz around your internal boss. Your comment has reminded me of a retreat we ran a few years ago called Invoking Robin Hood, where we looked at our internal Sherif of Nottingham. I like the phrase ‘waving goodbye to monsters’ 🙂 Happy googling!

  16. Powerful, easy yet bizarrely hard to allow time. Time, the clock ticking. Our country ancestors probably only had the gentle toll of the village church bell to signify human time. Doubt many had clocks or watches in the home.
    Very important message that I will promote to others. An awakening blog everyone should read for their own sanity. Important issue raised around school life conditions. I think philosophy (the empty bowl would be a good start) and such like should be on the curriculum.
    Always love book recommendations. Are we allowing enough time for reading also? Not everyone likes to read. I spent years…..decades hardly reading. When I think about it I wonder if I considered it idleness, or simply exhausted myself through labour too tired to engage in a book. All remedied now.
    Grateful for your words.

    1. I have loved reading your reflections here Elizabeth. I too find myself not allowing much time for reading, yet when I go on holiday that is mostly what I do and I probably get through about three books in a weeks holiday! Great to hear all these past challenges for you have been remedied.

  17. I read your blog this morning… timely as ever… Friday I was wondering how I could begin to deepen my spiritual practice and noticing the resistance… yesterday I went for a walk but instead was drawn to sit in the woods by a pond.. I could only manage a few minutes before I had my phone in my hand, then my journal for a bit then back to the phone. So hard to just sit! I will be practicing more.. and switching the phone off. And thank you for the reminder of a mobile room, the van. I love sitting in it looking out when I travel (which hadn’t been much recently) and hadn’t thought about taking it local somewhere and just being in it rather than a mode of transport and carrying loads that it’s become. You’ve inspired me…today I’m going to clean out the back and re-decorate it as a room and then next week go find a lovely spot to just be
    Thank you Nicola

    1. So delighted to hear this Rhona, what synchronicity. I remember when you and your van inspired me! That is interesting to hear your patterns of resistance too – very similar to mine.

  18. Fascinating. I really enjoyed reading and thinking about to changes created by the Industrial Revolution.

    I am now going to have a go at practicing doing nothing!

  19. So well written and agree so much with it, i tried to sit for 2 hours today i found it very difficult. I can sit for 20 minutes easily but hour or 2 not easy! My head just pops up with lists to do,random thoughts about varies things but i tried to persevere, i noticed ears ringing very loudly had that plenty over last couple months, then dark blue shapes and orange glow. when i did open my eyes i felt refreshed . It is something i think we all need to do and i think with practice would get easier. Thank you Nicola and Jason for your sharings! x

  20. It's really interesting Nicola that this blog should come into my inbox now. Only this week I have fully realised that I have been guided to create "Empty Bowl Time". I have noticed for months and months now that I have been wanting, even craving, to create space inside but at the same time resisting it and filling it up once I've created it!

    Through having some significant dreams (especially this weeks and last) and journalling I have realised that I need to create space and allow what is wanting to come through and be birthed, the channel it needs. What you said about about having the space for new potential to come through really reinforces this and resonates with me deeply.

    I am now endeavouring to follow this internal guidance and desire, and releasing resistance when I notice it arise.

    Thank you for following your own guidance and allowing this wisdom to be birthed through you.

    Much love and many blessing x

  21. Wise words. Thank you so much. Heading for the park straight after lunch. If I go in the garden I might be tempted to clear it up !

  22. This reminds me of an art collaboration that I took part in many years ago, a group of 4 or 5 of us met together with a brief to respond to the gallery space that we were in. Following our first couple of meetings we decided on the title of "The impossibility of doing nothing", We met weekly drank tea, ate biscuits or cake that we took turns to bring and chatted. The remains of our picnics that we had in the gallery space becoming the main part of the "work", choosing a different spot on the floor each week, and breaking every gallery rule that we could in the process. Over the 6 or so weeks each of us found that we wanted to do more, be that recording in video or sound our sessions or a piece of writing on the subject and experience, hence the impossibility of doing nothing. The resulting exhibition was well received even if it did produce some chaos as the picnic "sites" got trampled through during the opening.

    It also occurred to me as I read the number of generations that have passed since industrialisation to embed our current work ethic. As a result it will take a lot of undoing, so lets not be too hard on ourselves when we just have to get busy old habits take a very long time to shift.

  23. Found a lot of truth in this – always found it difficult to let go as too much always running through mind. Finding it a lot easier to read people & use gut instinct ( unfortunately) so much controlling going on

  24. Ye gods, yes, doing nothing is hard. So hard when I could be doing all those things I feel pressured to do which, once done, will be replaced with just as many pressing things. And if they're not, I will find them, because… doing nothing is hard… and kind of scary. I hope to make the circle tomorrow tonight to see what kestrel has to say about this!

  25. Hi Nicola, everything you have said here just makes so much sense and I have known this for years but I am still struggling, not because of how I intentionally lead my life but because I just cannot say NO to any of my five adult children when they ask for my help in any kind of way, especially when it has something to do with my grandchildren.
    I am a novelist and everyday I struggle trying to find the time to write and to be able to fit in what I need to do in a day, plus my husband runs a business from home and there are always people calling round. Sometimes I think I just want to disappear.
    Last week I told all of them not to come round or ask me to do anything for them as from now on I need my time, at 64 years old I think I deserve it.
    I know I have to be strict in telling them all this but I found myself thinking, (just forget about trying to finish my series of books) and as soon as I thought this I knew I had to be firm and carry on doing what I have always wanted to do in my life. I think I might take your advice and go and park up somewhere that I can think in peace. ??

    1. How interesting to hear this. This is the topic of my next blog… setting boundaries and essentially saying NO, usually multiple times. I think parking up somewhere 'away' and turning the phone off will be a good move – give it a go and see how you get on. It works wonders for me.

  26. Hi Nicola

    Loved your blog and can definitely resonate with it. I find it really difficult to do nothing, your words have motivated me though and I have written a few things in my diary. The first one is to follow your 'shamanic journeying foundation ' link (it's been 20 years since I was on a shamanic journey so need a refresher). The second thing is time to go to a nearby park and have some 'empty bowl' time. And the third thing is time to read over your website in detail (something I have been meaning to do since May 2020). Now they are in my diary, I can't wait for it all to happen. Thank you

  27. The article could have been written for me thank you Nicola. Since the last drumming circle I came to in Lancaster (with my daughter who was staying) my life has spiralled out of control and I struggle. But I know that I avoid finding the time to be silent. I will try again. Even started learning Finnish. So long since I have journeyed – don't find it easy – but will try. Write into my diary! When we can, I'll come and see you!

    1. Hello Susan, do come along to one of our free online gatherings. We have one at the Spring Equinox, Sat 20th March. We will be going on a shamanic journey then.

  28. What a helpful and informative blog, Nicola. I have so enjoyed reading this and I can relate to everything that you write…

    As the daughter of polish immigrants who came over to England in 1946, my upbringing was deeply steeped in the need to work hard and work long hours.

    Your research into what has brought about this need to control and manipulate the working man into feeling guilty for doing "nothing" is thorough and fascinating. A really helpful read.

    Yes. The need to empty our bowl to recharge and restore is essential… self tlc… and slotting in specific times/ places as to when/ where to do this along with a time for spiritual growth is so helpful.

    Clearly written, explained and a plan for the journey. Thank you again.

  29. Thankyou for taking the time out to write your blog. So on track with my thoughts as I lay at home recovering from a broken leg that was my last walk in the snow! Am taking this time out to slow down and prioritise just what ,where and when.!!

  30. Thank you for that Nicola. Even not working one can fill the day but still have been busy doing nothing but filling it with social media etc. Having someone else working in the house has further restrictions. Today I am going to spend time in a local nature place as I need inspiration to write something. I can t just go and do as I would like but need to plan the time. Helpful to know planning can be part of it. Doing it rather than thinking about doing it is a step in the right direction.

    1. I have heard from people who have retired how easy it is to fill time with not a lot! I hope you find your inspiration for writing out in nature – it works for me 🙂

  31. Thank you, Nicola ? Earlier that day, in bed with exhaustion again and believing that every challenge has a gift, I asked the question, 'What is the gift from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?'. And your blog gave me the answer that it's a lesson in simply being, and not doing. For a few years now, I've been saying we're human beings, not human doings, but still felt guilty about doing nothing, and now, thanks to your blog, I understand that we're breaking through generations of conditioning and breaking free of that awful mind control. Hardly surprising that even the church was in on it, with their 'Devil makes work for idle hands' routine!

    Thanks again, and sending love and blessings to you, Jason and Blue,
    from Xia (Alexia)

    1. Thanks for your comment here Xia and your reflections. Yes, that saying ‘Devil makes work for idle hands’ is one I remember too! I love the phrase human being not human doings.

  32. Hello Nichola, thank you for your blog. It's very interesting that as you described nothing as being hard to do, and lo and behold, the further I read the more I had to agree, as I found myself ticking off things I would have to stop to make time to do nothing. I was trying to think of when I could do nothing, and found it hard to fit doing nothing in. However I am very lucky that I have dogs to walk and enjoy the time out, but even this is timed to fit in with daily routines. But I am out for one and a half hours in nature taking in its beauty, I am luckier than most. I thoroughly enjoyed your blog, and couldn't agree more with the job/capitalist section.
    Thank you
    Paul. X

    1. Thank you for your reflections here Paul, it is really interesting to hear how resistance was coming up as you read about doing nothing. 1.5 hours out in nature a day is pretty good going… those dogs of yours are doing a fine job aren’t they!

  33. Enjoyed this read and have found this covid time such a blessing. It is so good to be yourself. A sense of freedom and growth to be you. So much good gas come from being given me time.

  34. Brilliant!!- just what i need to learn about at the moment. Very helpful information. Thank you and cant wait for your next blog.
    Im going to do the suggested exercises.
    Just a question – i cant find any journeying drum beats on you tube. What can I search for to find one please?

  35. Hi Nicola…many thanks for your thoughts…all very helpful…..I used to think that the reason I was always busy was my job, until I retired. Then I discovered that overfilling one’s day was part of the human condition!……When we did a journey to owl recently to ask how to care for ourselves, I saw him sitting on a branch high up in an oak tree. I waited for him to move or take flight, but he just stayed motionless. The clear sense I had was that he was saying just sit still sometimes!…….mmmm…….

  36. I came across this article by pure chance as I was just scrolling through late at night, and for some reason using the time I should have been using trying to get to sleep. I found it very interesting.

  37. Fascinating Nicola, thank you! I found the explanation regarding capitalism particularly interesting. I also value that you gave some practical guidance by suggesting some activities. The thought of sitting still for an hour in nature doing nothing is quite a daunting task for me but having read your blog I feel motivated to try – even if I manage only 15 minutes – it's a start!

    1. It absolutely is Shona. That is a good idea to start small to begin with. Thank you for your comment – I am delighted you enjoyed my blog 🙂

  38. Fabulous article Nicola – really enjoyed reading it and very insightful. I read it while procrastinating about typing up this morning's dreams (which I do every day). I had to laugh when it came to the bit where you mention 'play' – in one of the dreams I was jumping high in the air with joy while shouting 'Yay – Charlie's mum has given permission for me and Charlie to play'. LOL PS: I've no idea who Charlie is, or his mum, but I will journey to find out.

    1. Really interesting Joan. I find google often helps shed insights into phrases that I dream or receive on journey’s. I wonder if it will guide you to a story or something similar. It will be interesting to hear what your guides say when you journey on it. I love how you write up your dreams each day. Thank you for your kind feedback, this is really good to hear 🙂

  39. What a great article! So full of insight- it really joined the dots for me as to why this work/slave culture feels so wrong- we are human beings not robots! What happened to the promise of the more leisurely life when computers came along?
    I would love to attend the Spring Equinox ceremony- I don’t usually do activities like this on line, but I am missing the journey circle which I used to attend in Glastonbury before lockdown.

    1. Thank you for your note here Nicola. Yes, I believe we were sold the promise that computers would reduce our workload, but in fact they have made us more accessible, and require careful monitoring to make sure we take sufficient breaks away from them! Lovely to be sharing the Equinox with you 🙂

  40. Thank you for this perceptive blog Nicola. So widespread, need counter culture.
    I recall The protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism.
    It leads to deep alienation, no wonder we are so depressed and stressed.
    But i know myself as i encourage my son to do his work from home, when he's not so motivated. Fulfillment and flourishing can be so difficult in our society with such limited outllooks. How we find self worth within ourselves, build confidence, value our creativity. Trying to find what's worthwhile and grounded, how we can all look after each other.
    Thanks again – empty bowl time to be cherished and celebrated

    1. Thank you for your reflections here Phoebe. You have summed up the challenge very well here. I love your question ‘How we find self worth within ourselves, build confidence, value our creativity.’ It is very on point as this is going to be the topic of my next blog 🙂

  41. Thank you Nicola for all your beautiful soul are an inspiration to us all.

    Ref Kestrel.. a powerful spirit guide ineed..a wondrous spectacle to behold.

    Can I draw your attention to 'The Windhover', a most marvellous poem by Gérard Manly Hopkins from the 1870's.
    I discovered it after writing my own little poem 'Kestrel' which I perform as ca song from time to time. .


    I saw a kestrel
    Hover in the wind
    Suspended on
    A gossamer thread.

    Perfectly still
    In harmony with
    All the forces
    Of nature.

    Wonderous thing
    Wonderous thing

    I saw a kestrel hover
    In the air
    Hovering hovering hovering

    Twas a wonderous,
    Wonderous thing!

    GJB 2016

  42. I read and re-read this. And will read it again, as it speaks to me completely, and I want to learn from this. Your explanation speaks my mind and now I can see this, I can hopefully act on it. I long for the Empty Bowl. I long to make myself important enough to give time to myself, rather than give of myself to other people. I am so important, and need to make myself see this, and hopefully will, with the help of your wisdom and words. Thank You

  43. Hi Nicola,

    I am new to Shamanism but can relate to what you have written about procrastination and delaying tactics. I find that if I do have time to myself I fill it up with checking emails or my phone or starting something and then not finishing it off. I then go back to other things that I have started previously and not finished. I find it very difficult to quiet my mind.

    After I watched your video on journeying I tried it and was greeted by Turtle who told me to take things slowly. I am therefore going to follow your advice and go out for an hour in nature and take it slowly.

    Thank you so much.


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