What Is The Difference Between “Doing” and “Being?”

You’ve probably heard the saying: Stop working so hard. You’re a human being, not a human doing.

Sylvia Boorstein, the Buddhist meditation teacher, even wrote a book by the title Don’t Just Do Something, Sit there, a tongue-in-cheek take on what most of us heard as kids: Don’t just sit there; do something.

We all know how to do. We know how to stay busy and get things done, help others, run errands, and maximize our productivity. What we don’t know is how to Be.

Let’s talk about “DOING” first.

The focus of the Doing mind is to be task-oriented, to get things done. e.g. Make a meal, do the laundry, change the sheets, mow the lawn etc. These are all external goals. The Doing mind is constantly evaluating, assessing, and monitoring how things are. There are two questions the Doing mind is concerned with:

How are things right now?

How do I want things to be? 

If there is a gap between how things are and how I want them to be, I generate thoughts and actions to try and close that gap. If the gap is decreasing, my thoughts and actions are right on target. If they are not, I make adjustments accordingly.

For example, if your car makes a funny sound as you’re driving to work, you pull over and a) call your partner b) call a mechanic you know c) call AAA. Then you take the next action which is a) wait for assistance to arrive b) drive to the service station c) wait for your friend/partner to reach you.

This is perfect when we need TO DO something and when DOING it can fix the problem. The mistake we make is that when things start to go wrong in our internal world (the world of feelings and emotions) we try to apply the principles of DOING to fix them.

Let’s talk about “BEING” now.

When we’re just Being, the mind has nothing to do and nowhere to go. It is fully present to what is happening in the present moment.

Let’s consider the example of your having lost a loved one. Let’s bring those same two questions to the BEING state.

How are things right now?

How do I want things to be?

When someone we love dies, there is a gap between our current reality and how we want things to be.

Your mind is thinking: I wish he was still here with me. I wish I didn’t feel so miserable. 

From this, you probably generate a belief: I’m going to be unhappy for the rest of my life. But you don’t like thinking and feeling this way. And clearly you don’t want to be unhappy for the rest of your life.

This is where it gets a little tricky. The DOING mind takes over and tries to fix the problem. Your mind is probably saying things like: I shouldn’t be feeling this way. I have to stop thinking like this. I need to fix this.

Anytime you’re thinking the words “have to” “must” “should” or “need to” your DOING mind is in action.

However, no immediate action can be taken to reduce the gap between life as it is right now and how you’d like it to be. When there’s no action that can be taken, the mind continues to obsess about how it can close the gap between how things are how they should be. So it lives in the past or in the future. It dwells on all the memories you made together or it freaks out about an uncertain future without your loved one by your side.

The mind doesn’t know how to live in the present moment. To Be means living in the present moment. The focus of the Being mind is accepting and allowing. There is no goal to be reached. There is no desire to change anything. There is only curiosity and openness.

The Being mind does not push away unpleasant feelings; nor does it cling to pleasant feelings.

We have been taught that Doing has value. We have no clue what Being is all about. That is why we struggle when the problem is internal but we try to find an external solution to it.

Here are 3 suggestions on how to practice Being:

  1. When something unpleasant happens to you, drop down into your body and feel the sensations like your clammy hands, a pounding heart, dry mouth, or the rush of dread. When you do this you interrupt the mind’s storytelling. Life is so unfair; why do bad things always happen to me?; He always makes me feel…
  2. Witness your feelings with compassion instead of judgment. Try not to allow your mind to trick you into these kinds of thoughts: I should be grateful for what is working well here; Good people don’t hold on to grudges so I shouldn’t either; I should try to think a better-feeling thought. Instead, simply witness your reaction, judgment, and body sensations with curiosity and openness.
  3. During the day bring yourself into a state of Being regularly. Set an alarm on your phone. When it goes off, come back to the here and now. Feel where you’re sitting, feel your body sensations and the temperature in the room, smell what’s in the air, look around you and really “see” everything, listen to the sounds around you.

It is so important to practice Being. It is an important skill that will help ease you into calm.

What struggles do you face when it comes to NOT DOING?

 

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