Being vs. doing - the great divide

As I sit here, once again by the shores of the Mediterranean, feeling the caressing sea breeze and a temperature that is deliciously perfect on bare skin, I think it is a good moment to ponder on doing versus being. As I am trying to BE more and DO less, which is sort of the point of this holiday in particular, I catch myself doing lots. We are always doing lots, even when we lounge about half-asleep by the pool. We are usually lost in thought, planning ahead or remembering stuff. And that's doing.

Modern life is all about doing and having: our sense of self, our self-esteem, how we are perceived and valued by others. Although most people, when asked, would say that what is crucial is who you are, how this is practically defined is all about what you spend your time, skills, and attention doing. Although most of us say 'just be yourself', there are few of us who can simply say 'just be' (and mean it!).

My religion is called Do-Be-Do-Be Do [...] it aims to balance the active “doing” of Western religions with the serene “being” of Eastern religions.
— Martha Beck

 

In most western cultures, the permission to just be, free from pressures to respond and perform is inevitably seen as some kind of deficiency, failure or inadequacy. This sort of emptiness can seem quite terrifying and threatening in our modern lives, bombarded as we are at all hours of the day with information, and demands for attention and reaction. We must all have our say, right? Otherwise you are no-one. Or worse still you are MISSING OUT (damn that FOMO!!!).

In many ways, meditation and mindfulness become even more necessary to rebalance and quieten the mind's merry go-round. But meditation is easily swiped to the bottom of our to-dos by dictatorial minds that terrify us with "there is so much to do, you cannot simply sit and do nothing" (do you notice how many "do"s I used?). Despite the push to carve out time for relaxation in our busy lives, relaxation for most people also involves doing (or having done to you): exercise, watching TV or films, socialising, etc. Most of these are activities that do not allow us to quietly observe our thoughts and our surroundings. To let the witnessing awareness surface.

Being does not require one to do; doing will not (necessarily) lead to Being; but this doesn't mean one is to lead a life of apathy. Also, children need to be fed, bills paid, and holidays booked... Essentially, there is nothing wrong with setting goals, planning ahead and measuring success along a journey - this is human striving and it is part of how we operate. Our mistake lies in using it as a substitute for the feeling of life, of Being.

Often we become trapped in the past and in the future, which is where the mind operates. And so, waiting becomes a permanent state of mind - the perfect canvass for our mental digressions. We have been taught and conditioned from a young age into believing that everything has to have some purpose towards some future which we may .. or may never reach. Most of us try to convince ourselves that life will be better after we complete some project, or that doing this course will make us happy or give us a purpose. Waiting patterns have a way of repeating themselves, and life is a series of patterns. It's like an airplane on a holding pattern, never quite landing (until we run out of fuel - see time - and crash into oblivion - sorry I couldn't help it!!).  Living in the moment is not waiting until after you finish your studies, you get married, get the ideal job (whatever that may be) or have a baby. Life is now, where you are, in this moment, doing what you are doing without worrying about the outcome or trying to get away from something.

I find particularly useful Eckhart Tolle's notion of an outer and inner purpose. It has helped my mind grasp the practical application of doing versus being. The outer purpose is to achieve a goal or arrive at a destination - all of which requires some degree of planning and of looking ahead to the future and anticipating. This is the worldly aspect of our lives, the 'what', 'when' and 'where'. It is the 'doing'. By contrast, the inner purpose is the quality of your consciousness in the present moment, the only moment that truly exists. It is the 'how' and concerns a deepening of your being in a timeless, context-free dimension. In other words, become aware that worldly endeavours (education, occupation, relationship status, etc.) is the shell where we do; whereas our conscious awareness in the present is our core being. Our essence. Always there, no matter how much you earn (or whether you earn at all!), whether you have any children or a partner, or whether you like to spend your free time cross-stitching or running.

So does it matter whether we achieve our outer purpose, whether we succeed or fail in the world? Well, I believe humans have been asking this since they realised their neighbour in the cave had better furs than them. I don't want to be all doom and gloom but to continue with the airplane theme above, you might have heard that every outer purpose is doomed to end (as in, we all gotta go at some point). I'm of the opinion that the point of life is not to die, but to BE between coming and going. Our journey.

So, yes, we should DO to increase our physical, emotional, and mental wellbeing in this journey - make whatever best we can with our embodiment and set of circumstances. Deep down, the reason we want success in this world, is because we think it will make it easier to realise our potential for happiness and wisdom (or enlightenment). The problem is that it most often doesn't. And if it does, it's not actually because of the success itself, but because of the path that the search for success took us down (towards self-discovery and connection with our spirit).

How do you sit in this great divide of being vs. doing? Are you aware of your outer and inner purpose? How do you feel about doing nothing for short periods of time a day? What does Being mean to you?

 

 

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Magüi Moreno

Full-timer seeker, professional nomad, and bilingual life coach. Mindfulness Mama and half of a European couple. My passion is to support you with clarity and awareness on your journey of self-discovery and on your quest for purpose.