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Coming soon: The favorite new subject on campus

Nick Tayag

One day, as the Zen monk Yao-shan was sitting in meditation, his teacher Shih-t’ou asked him, “What are you doing?”

Yao-shan said, “I’m not doing anything.”

Shih-t’ou replied, “Then you’re just being idle.”

Yao-shan said, “If I were being idle, then I’d be doing something.”

Remember the time when we used to joke that “Recess” was our favorite subject? It turns out that it’s no longer a joke. It’s now for real, although it comes under a new subject title: “Do Nothing.”

From what I’ve gathered, the “Do Nothing” class is an actual course at Lawrence University in Wisconsin, USA.  The one credit class meets for an hour once a week, and students get a grade of Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory (S/U) in lieu of receiving the traditional letter grade.

As a student, you won’t be required to write papers or study for a final exam. Instead, all you need to do: show up to class, put your phone or laptop away and participate. Yes, just those three simple, stress-free things. No way you can fail this.

You may think it’s just loafing around. But it’s really a course on self-care. The idea is to help you to de-compress or chill out by providing a safe space away from technology and the demands of academics. One student notes: “Every Tuesday, for one hour, I come to class with no pressure or expectations and get to remove myself from the academic stress all around me.” Many of those who attend the class swear that their pulse has gone down.

The “Do Nothing” class is the brainchild of Prof. Constance Kassor. Kassor explains: “We’re trying to equip them with some skills and resources to combat their stress, in order to promote creativity and deep learning.” Different faculty and staff teach mindful walking, deep listening, tai chi, or meditation, all designed, Kessor says, “to help students in their other courses, in their college careers, and in life after college.”

The new class currently has the highest enrollment of any subject at Lawrence University. If reports are true, the idea has since spread to other places such as Hong Kong and the Netherlands. The fact that it is popular should tell us something about the current mental and emotional state of young students. And if some school authorities approve of it, they must see some merit to it.

Several parents get the idea, and one of them has commented: “If there were more classes like this throughout adolescence and teenage years we might have more well-rounded human beings with more interests in learning and finding what we’re passionate about. Wish I had a course like this when I was in school. Heck, I’d sign up right now.”

Personally, I see it as a post-response to the pandemic as well as a pushback against our fast-paced, high-pressure, anxiety-inducing society. I wish it would become an integral part of the high school and college curricula because it would have a lifelong positive impact in terms of helping young people learn to cultivate and practice self-care.

Has anyone noticed the rise in the incidence of teen suicides? Nearly one in five young Filipinos have considered ending their life, according to findings of a nationwide survey released by the University of the Philippines Population Institute (UPPI) in October 2022. This has more than doubled between 2013 and 2021.

But let’s not stop with campuses. There’s also a similar red flag in our workplaces, populated by supposedly mature adults.

A recent study done by MindNation (2022) shows that more than half of Pinoy workers suffer mental issues. It says: “What is furthermore alarming is that there is an average of eight percent among the employee population in every company who are suicidal and are thinking of self-harm.” The reasons are Covid-19 fears, financial pressures, worker performance pressure, difficulty in handling work and family.

Clearly, young and mature alike, we all need a “recess” in our daily life, a physical or virtual space for self-healing.

Companies can do their employees a big favor by setting aside a room or space to do nothing, heal and zone out that encourages a daily practice of self-care.

We can probably have cafes, nooks or no-activity relaxation areas like in South Korea where over coffee, you just sit and stare in quiet surroundings or read, write, meditate or simply listen to soft music. Koreans call it “hitting mung,” a slang word which means “to space out” or to describe a state of being totally zoned out.

Will DepEd and CHED be open to this idea? I doubt it. They would probably just sit on the suggestion and do nothing about it.

Still, I look to the time when I could ask my grandkids: “What did you do in class today,” and they would answer: “Nothing.”

How about imagining your kid coming home with some happy news for a change: “Mommy, look at my card. Excellence in Doing Nothing.”

I’m not kidding. As a Zen monk would say: Don’t just do something. Sit and do nothing.

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