The Impossibility of Doing Nothing

 “Stand still”

I’ve heard, read and said those words quite many times in my life. But standing still is an impossible task. There is no such thing as standing still. You will always be moving, when you are standing still.

Because there is no such thing as stillness in movement and movement in stillness.

There are such things as stillness in movement and movement in stillness but there is no real, true stillness.

That dead stillness.

When you’re standing still, you’re actually balancing. Balancing might be associated with balancing only on one foot, but you are also balancing when you are on your two feet. You are balancing between four spots: the heels and the balls of your feet.

It’s a constant negotiation between the weight of your body and the floor, which is pushing from underneath.

It’s a constant negotiation between energies.

It’s a constant negotiation between up from the crown of your head and down from your feet.

It’s a constant negotiation between left and right, between front and back.

And when you think you are standing still, you are still moving between all these directions. Constantly.

As the closest you might get to stillness is within the moment in between, the moment of (ex)change. Between up and down, in and out, release and tension.[1] Constantly balancing in the sphere of all these moments of micro-movement. And there in the middle, the closest to stillness and doing nothing you can get, you are simply being.[2] Your muscles and your nervous system are working, your feet are sensing, sending information up through your body, which balances it all out. You don’t even notice it, you’re working unconsciously.

The augmented reality of The Egg

In her book How to do Nothing Jenny Odell brings up the question of the “real” world acting as “augmented reality” and where we draw our attention to. What is there around us, when we bring our eyes up from the screen.[3] During the past month I was asking myself this question and found myself linking attention with concentration.

The Egg Balancing is a practice I encountered during my bachelor studies at the HZT (Hochschulübergreifendes Zentrum Tanz Berlin). It was introduced to me by Jee-Ae Lim, a dancer and choreographer with roots in traditional Korean dance. The Egg Balancing, according to Jee-Ae, is highly about patience, concentration and feeling. Being able to balance the egg lies within getting the yolk in the right position, where it is not moving – but resting just on the right spot – where gravity draws it towards the ground. Drawing my attention to this tiny movement of swaying, I became more aware of the fragility of my own, paradoxically-close-to-stillness, micro-movements, as the egg responds to the tiniest push. Maybe this movement is my own augmented reality.

The productivity of doing nothing

What are we considering as productivity or productive, is also something Odell asks.[4]  Through bringing my gaze into the world, I found myself directing it towards the “non-productive”, idle body, which actually never is still. The paradox of the human-body doing nothing, and directing the attention towards the somatic body and internal “productivity”, as our autonomic nervous system is working continuously to keep us alive and functioning.

The somatic unconscious, the bodily level of it, can be experienced through a movement practice called authentic movement. It lets the movement unfold from the unconscious mind through stillness, through waiting for the inner impulse. [5] One shouldn’t plan on moving, or try to move in a certain way, rather to try to let go of any expectations that something should happen. Letting go of that urge of, one could say, productivity. As the body can never be still, there is movement emerging from – and within – stillness.

Authentic movement is always happening with another person in the space, called the witness. Their job is to quietly focus on the mover, observe what is happening. Their job is also to note their own (sometimes kinetic) responses of feelings, images, desires or associations.

And here we are. We (my colleague and I) might look like we are doing nothing much – at least nothing “productive” – but our bodies are working, our thoughts are flying. Thinking about that egg yolk balancing around, we balance our organs. Noticing people and the nature around us. Breathing, letting go and catching again. Slowing down and turning the gaze both inwards as well as sweeping it through the surroundings. Through letting the stillness inform our movement, we are trying to get closer to the paradox of movement and stillness.

Balancing in the midst of constant change, between the real reality around us and the augmented reality within us. We invite you to observe your own responses, which emerge when watching us. When watching movement in stillness, stillness in movement, and the idle nature of balancing.

[1] Jennifer de Leon, ”Dance, Stillness and Paradox,” In Dance Dialogues: Conversations across cultures, artforms and practices, ed. Cheryl Stock, Proceedings of the 2008 World Dance Alliance Global Summit, Brisbane, 13 – 18 July. Online publication, QUT Creative Industries and Ausdance, [accessed: 26.7.2020]

[2] de Leon, ”Dance, Stillness and Paradox”

[3] Jenny Odell, How to do Nothing: Resisting the attention economy (New York: Melville House Publishing, 2019), pp. 6-7

[4] Ibid. p. 7

[5] Wendy Wyman-McGinty, “The body in analysis: authentic movement and witnessing in analytic practice,” Journal of Analytical Psychology 43:2 (1998), p. 240 [accessed 17.7.2020]

Vilja Mihalovsky | Choreographer | Performer