Fighting Parkinson’s, and sitting…and doing nothing

Okay. Let’s sit and do nothing. Just sit and do nothing…and see what happens. That is doing. It is seemingly doing nothing that is powerfully doing something in your recovery. How can doing “no thing” actually be doing “some thing” useful? I will explain.

I have said many times that in my recovery, I had to learn to stop thinking so much, and just “do.” Just doing without thinking was something completely contrary to how I had been in my life and how I was at the time when I had Parkinson’s. Of course, one of the things I realized in my recovery was that since I was doing what I always had been doing when I got Parkinson’s, part of my recovery would require me to do things differently. Doing without thinking was one of those important changes.

When I had Parkinson’s and was considering doing meditation, and I read about sitting zazen, I looked up articles and videos so I could get a sense of how to sit (correct posture, correct mudra (way of holding hands), correct amount of time to sit, correct time of day to sit, correct…etc.. Clearly, I was still thinking and over-thinking in my then-Parkinson’s Adrenaline mind mode.

My physical limitations narrowed down the ability to “correctly” do almost all that I had read. Sitting on the floor for any great length of time was impossible. Sitting with my back straight was impossible. Sitting in a lotus or half lotus position was impossible (something I never had been able to do in life anyhow). Holding my hands in a special mudra for any great length of time was impossible. Counting my breaths from 1-10 starting the counting on the exhale, and starting over at 1 and doing it again…finally, something I could do.

So I improvised. I sat at the front of a hard, straight-backed chair, feet on the floor pointing straight, hunched forward with hands on knees. I set my timer for 10 minutes, closed my eyes about 75% (eyelids cracked to assist me in not falling asleep), and I started counting my breaths on the exhale. When I reached 25 or 26, it occurred to me that I must not have been paying attention because I was supposed to go back to 1 when I reached 10. So I started at 1 again. After a few 1-10 sequences, I looked over at my timer to find that I had about 7-1/2 minutes remaining. I thought I was going to lose my mind (I had yet to realize that losing my over-thinking mind was the whole point of the sitting and doing nothing; I was a slow learner). I looked at the time a few more times over the next few minutes. My initial thought was “what a waste of 10 minutes; why in the world would anybody sit zazen for 30 or 40 minutes.”

However, as was my way in my recovery, when I started something new, I stuck with it for a month so I could properly assess its usefulness. It took me quite a few days to make it through 10 minutes without looking at the timer. I had really good reasons for looking at the timer: “I am certain I have been sitting here for a long time, but I am so focused on my counting, I did not notice the timer when it buzzed.” “I feel like I have sat here twice as long as yesterday, so the timer must be broken, I better check the time.” It is embarrassing to say, but this is just the beginning of a long list of reasons for looking at the time during the 10 minutes. Instead of just doing, that is, breathing and counting, for most of my 10 minutes I was involved in self-judging, self-criticizing over-thinking.

Then, one morning, it occurred to me that I needed to shoot down every excuse to look at the timer because part of what I was trying to accomplish was not over-thinking things and not worrying so much about the future. It hit me that worrying about the time prevented me from being in the moment. My mind was in a “what’s coming next” mode instead of living in the moment, and I was preoccupied with the future (and sometimes the past).

More or less, I think everybody suffers from this with Parkinson’s — a preoccupation with how one got Parkinson’s and what will the future be like with Parkinson’s. Doing, instead of thinking too much, is how to be in the moment. So, doing what looked like “no thing” (just sitting) turned out to be “some thing” special; it brought me into feeling the reality of the moment.

This was an important realization for me. I became better equipped for embracing the disease. Think about it: In the present moment, you have Parkinson’s. At some time in the past, you did not have Parkinson’s. At some time in the future, you may not have Parkinson’s. However, if all you do is think about it, you stop living. You end up caught in the “life was so good before, and the future looks bleak” mentality of Parkinson’s.

In Suzuki’s Not Always So, he makes this point: “In our zazen practice we stop our thinking, and we are free from emotional activity. We don’t say there is no emotional activity, but we are free from it. We don’t say we have no thinking, but our life activity is not limited by our thinking mind. In short, we can say that we trust ourselves completely, without thinking, without feeling, without discriminating between good and bad, right and wrong. Because we respect ourselves, because we put faith in our life, we sit. That is our practice.”

How powerful is that in your life and recovery:

“Because we respect ourselves, because we put faith in our life, we sit.”

I need to take a brief aside. Some people with a strong Western religious practice and faith have expressed to me that they feel an aversion to meditation. It is new and different, and they have raised concerns with me that they feel they might be doing something contrary to their religious ideals. I look at it this way. In the Western religions’ Bible, in Genesis, God said let there be light. This means that all of creation that followed this announcement was first in the darkness and born into the light no differently than each of us being in the darkness of our mother’s bodies before we were born into the light. Meditation takes you back into the darkness to help you see the light of your essence deep inside you. It helps you sit in the darkness and allows your luminous essence to grow and shine…it delivers you from the darkness back into the light.

Finally, a couple of days ago, a friend and I were having a lively email exchange about doing nothing, and I remembered another couple of old friends, Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin. Their conversation looked like this:

“Winnie the Pooh: “But what I like doing best is nothing. How do you do nothing?
Young Christopher Robin: It’s when people call out, “What are you going to do, Christopher Robin?” And you say, “Oh, nothing.” And then you go ahead and do it.
Winnie the Pooh: Ah, yes. Doing nothing often leads to the very best something.”

When you are doing nothing…just being…meditating…praying…staring out the window into the wonderment of the Universe…all the worries disappear, and then, doing nothing leads to the very best something…you become one with everything. There is no Parkinson’s in this space.

 So, my friends, in your soul, mind, and body Parkinson’s Recipe for Recovery® journey, taking the inspiration of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin, and taking the words of Suzuki, respect yourself, put faith in your life, and let’s do nothing and sit…it often leads to the very best something.

You are worth it!!!

All my best,


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14 Responses to Fighting Parkinson’s, and sitting…and doing nothing

  1. Sharon says:

    Howard, thank you for this wonderful post on how sitting zazen benefits us.
    Let’s all do nothing and sit.
    Love to all.
    Sharon in North Carolina

  2. Jeff A says:

    Thank you Howard, learning to meditate was difficult at first but eventually I learned to love it. It really calms the body and brings me peacefulness every day. On another note, I am gracious to be part of this group and so glad I have chosen this path of healing. After 7 months of doing the recipe, I met with my neurologist this week and to her surprise I actually improved on all of my symptoms. Healing is happening, even though I sometimes do not see it. Thank you Howard

  3. Chris Meyer says:

    LOL, Howard, that’s one meaty blog post coming from a vegetarian!

    I seem to experience Parkinson’s as a long slow rolling nervous breakdown resulting from the usual suspects, chronic worry and over thinking.

    It occurs to me that the best way to drop all this BS is to just GO FOR IT, and let what happens, happen. Your blog post today provides many helpful and delightful hints to help me GO FOR IT. Thanks for that.

    I’m also adding zazen practice, but find the recipe has been a fine introduction to meditation. When I do the first liver exercise with 10 sets of bending and rubbing, I’m always amazed how much faster the second five go than the first!

    Wishing all a wonderful life,


  4. Jan - UK says:

    ahhhhh hummmmm another blog with a shining light to help guide our travel – thank you Howard xx

  5. Margaret says:

    Aaawwwww yes, the fine art of doing nothing, such a foreign concept in our frazzled over scheduled lives. When cultivated, it’s one of the most rewarding things to do. My favorite is laying in my recliner in the back yard with the birds chirping and the sun on my face………and I think to myself what a wonderful world oh yeah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Loving, kind gentle thoughts to you Howard and fellow warriors xoxox

  6. Petra says:

    Since I am on course for recovery, sometimes Howard has to keep me on trail because of my exploring and thus exhausting mind. And you know what: two years ago I saw this project, but didn’t step in and all Howard’s blogs didn’t find a way in. I was skeptical. Now while I am on track every word Howard writes down sinks in and is very supporting. It’s like a drop on a stone can make a hole. Every word spoken by Howard makes us more and more whole again. I am reading his book again and now I recognize his words like it’s my story. At first reading this was a sort of theoretical mental understanding, now it’s when I read it again it seems I’ve must have something missed in the first time. We have to go deep inside where all is well.
    Dear Howard thank you for this amazing timing with this support🌺🌺🌺

  7. Tery and Werni says:

    Dear Howard

    Amazing what you are explaining, you are the best! Your words meet the heart and we thank you for your steady support, by thinking of the problem, to solve it in clear words and encouraging us. THANK YOU🙏

  8. Karen From Wisconsin says:

    Winnie the Pooh has always been a special friend of mine. If anyone has a chance, go back and listen to that song about him. I believe it is Loggins and Messina from the 70’s. Anyways, he gets the honey jar stuck on his nose… That song is always with me in tuff times and good times.

    Thank you Howard for cuing into my dear friend Winnie and all his buddies!

    Karen from Wisconsin

  9. Ken says:

    Congratulations Jeff on your visit to the neurologist. Imagine the doctors surprise
    Keep up the good work.

  10. Lohren says:

    Thank you, Howard. Meditation is so important to healing!

  11. Rosa says:


    You are an inspiration! I find a lot of healing wisdom in everything you wrote here. Thank you for dedicating so much of your time, effort and compassion to help this community.

    Much Love

  12. Michael Allen says:

    Howard, Thank you for the comments on sitting meditation as a practice of constantly striving for our minds to remain in the moment and not continue dwelling on the past or future.

    I now look forward to daily half hour sitting meditation sessions and believe such practice can improve my brain’s function and plasticity, thereby, gradually helping to eliminate PD symptoms.

    Michael Allen, Brooksville, FL

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