Human Being instead of Human Doing
It may sound counterintuitive, but even those who are living are not alive. What I mean is that most people go through their lives on autopilot focused on the Doing of life and ignoring the Being of life. All of us get so focused on our To-Do lists and schedules and obligations that we forget to slow down. I know for myself when I used to hear people talk about slowing down and enjoying life my first thought was I don’t have time, I have too much to Do.
Most of our lives are overscheduled and if you have kids in your life you know how overscheduled children are today compared to when many of us were young. This overscheduling of our lives keeps us in the semi suspended state of Zombie ness. We are living to fulfill the obligations of our schedules instead of living life to live. Sort of the “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” attitude.
But sometimes it all sounds like what I call Bumper Sticker platitudes; live your life one day at a time, or living in the Now. Most people will say, ok, I know I should do those things, but I don’t have time. So, I decided that I need to make a change for myself and practice what I’m preaching. What I am trying to figure out is how to freeze time, how to carve out moments in time when I can just Be. I am still managing my schedule, getting things done, keeping appointments etc., but I’m also learning how to shape time for myself and slow down enough even in the middle of a scheduled day and find the quietness in a moment.
My Being is caught up in the business of the day, my Being is lost in the moment. Say I am driving to work and I’m thinking about my day and the patients I will see, paperwork I need to get done and calls I need to return, a process familiar or typical for most of us. Oh, I also might be thinking that I’m hungry, thirsty, a little tired and the radio is on, there’s road noise, there’s other traffic I have to pay attention to and my Being is buried under all of this. My body is just a shell carrying me throughout the day and my Being, my Self is lost under this loudness. I then decide in that moment to just freeze time a bit. I turn off the radio, I take some deeper breaths, I connect with my body, aches, pains, pressures and I just practice the magic of “stopping time” and listen to my Being. I’m listening to the tires on the pavement, I’m listening to my breathing, and I’m present in that time with my Being. I’m not jumping ahead in time to my destination. I’m connecting to my present reality – I’m Being with myself in the moment.
Of course, this isn’t magic at all – it’s just Being human, but we have been socialized into a Doing human. We have been taught that to have value, worth, identity and purpose we have to Do as a person. For myself when I would go to bed at night I would rate myself as to what I accomplished that day. If I got my chores done or tackled a project, or basically had something to show for my day, I felt good about myself, I felt good about my Doing. I thought, ok, I made good use of today, I feel that I contributed to the forward movement of my life. This concept of working hard each day was something I developed on my own as a kid and it fits my personality. But I think that I was linking the Doing too much with my sense of worth and identity.
I learned to say to myself that I’m good because I’m doing something. This sense of accomplishment certainly helped my sense of self-esteem beginning with my first grass cutting jobs at the age of ten, pushing that heavy mower all over the neighborhood earning money. I felt good about my hard work and of course, after cutting that grass I could see the physical proof of my labor and my neighbors were happy that their yards were cut. This Doing also certainly made the codependent part of me happy – that I was making other people happy.
I was starting up the living to work approach to life and my disconnection from my Being a kid and connecting to the reinforcement of the Doing. I was learning that I had to work hard, study, put in effort and keep striving to achieve. I think that I thought and maybe many of us think this, that I had to put aside the Me, my Being as a sacrifice for the Doing. I think I learned that for me to achieve my goals and to become a good person and to have relationships that I had to Do. That I couldn’t spend the time to stop and take stock in myself and connect with what I was feeling and Being. That I had to leave behind those long lazy days when I would go down to the creek and play with my matchbox cars and I had to produce , to Do.
What I have learned in my work as a therapist is that many people are genuinely frightened at the prospect of stopping and checking in with themselves. Most people want to stay in what is called a dissociated state, or acting like a zombie. They want to stay distracted with their schedules, to-do lists and preoccupied with their own reality show dramas. As long as they do this they don’t have to feel or Be – they can just focus on the Doing to define their lives.
So, then the Doing defines who they are Being. For example, it is typical in our Western culture when we meet other people one of the first things we ask is: “So, what do you DO?”. We use this to help ourselves categorize this new person into a familiar framework. Of course, this question has value in that it gives us a window in to that person’s life and we know if they say “I’m a dentist, or I’m a chef” that we can compare them with our relative knowledge to all the other dentists or chefs we know.
But we really don’t know them, this is just a high level 10,000-foot view of this person. But this is how we have all been socialized. I tried an experiment years ago, when I started interacting with people who were retired or not working in a traditional way and I asked them, “so, how do you spend your time”.
I thought I was being clever by not asking them what they “did” for a living. But really I was just asking the same thing about their Doing-ness, but in a different way. What I should have asked was: “So what’s it like Being You?”. But, that sounds kind of ridiculous and most people would think I was certainly crazy and would not know how to answer me.
If I were to ask most people what it is like to Be themselves I would probably have to prompt them with questions like: What makes you happy, what gives you a sense of contentment, how do you slow down and experience life? For some these questions may seem straightforward, but check in with yourself. When you read my hypothetical questions were you able to answer them, or did you squirm in your seat or feel puzzled?
Most people don’t know what makes them happy, much less what gives them a sense of contentment. Most folks are way too busy running around. So just the idea of having to think about these things is so outside of their frame of reference.
So, let’s look at some very simple ways you can freeze time for yourself. You may have heard the expression being mindful or mindfulness. This is a trendy concept that is simply about quieting yourself in the moment. Being Mindful is focusing your mind on an activity or within your body. It’s not mystical or magical – it’s what my grandma would call “sewing” lol.
Think of something that brings you joy something that you are Doing that helps remind you of your Being. For myself it’s working outside digging in the dirt or making pondless waterfalls. When I’m in this zone I’m Being me. I am doing something, but I am just in my happy space. I’m slowing down, I’m lost in the process, my mind is drifting while I’m doing something very familiar, but I am being.
I can feel my heart rate go down, I feel my body relax.
When I take someone through a guided meditation that say lasts five minutes, they will open their eyes afterwards and ask “how long was I out?”. They are surprised that it was just five minutes, but that’s all it takes to center ourselves.
So, this meditation or Being quiet goes back to my example of me driving to work and checking in with myself. I have to go to work, I can’t go out and play in the dirt, but I can take a few moments and quiet myself and go within and find that happy and content place. It’s there, I just have to find it buried under the to-do lists.
Another way of Being in the moment is ritual. Each day when I go into work I call it “starting up the machine”. After the lights are on and before I see my first appointment, I stand in my room and close my eyes and I say a prayer. For me this is my way of centering myself in the moment and preparing myself for my work. I begin and end my work day with this ritual as a signal to myself of where I am and what I’m about to Do. But I’m also reminding myself to Be. I’m telling myself that my highest intention is to be fully present with all those who I see that day and night, that I am fully in and available.
Think of your life and what rituals you are already doing that help you be present and available. Or begin to think of ways you can bring a ritual into your work or homelife that helps you connect with your Being.
If you are coming home to your family just take some moments in the car as you are getting close to your house. Take some deep breaths and acknowledge that you may be hungry, tired, thirsty or have to pee and take a moment to invite yourself to Be present – to and for yourself, and to and for your family.
It’s not hard, it’s just takes practice. Maybe put a post it on your dashboard that says “I’m Being” as a reminder.
Make this process work for you. Some of my ideas might work for you, but use your creativity and come up with what feels right to your BEing.
“At the center or your Being you have the answer; You know who you are and you know what you want”. Lao Tzu
Robert Jackman, LCPC 2017
How to Be and Adult in Relationships: The Five Keys to Mindful Loving – Richo and Hendricks
The Tao of Mindful Being – Sheehan
And any adult coloring book you can find!