Being vs. Doing



“Hey Eric,” Brianna launches in, “I’ve been meditating regularly for more than six months, been trying to get into this for years.” She’s pleased with her accomplishment, I can tell. And she adds, “One of the themes that keep coming up as I meditate is Doing versus Being.”

“Oh, that’s super cool,” I say, “I’ve been thinking about this for a while, too.”

“Yeah,” she adds, “It took this crazy pandemic to get me going with a meditation practice.”

“I totally get it, Bree. I know you’re among a crowd of leaders that have taken up meditation to deal with the anxiety, stress, and burnout that this unprecedented pandemic has brought on.” Then I ask, “What are you thinking about Doing Vs. Being?”

“Well,” she answers, “I guess what I really want to do is stop all this crazy Doing and learn to just Be.”

“Crap,” I blurt, “I don’t know how to do that!”

“No way Eric! You’ve been at this for decades,” her surprise is mixed with disappointment.

“Seriously,” I add, “the word versus is a dead-end for me. Versus means ‘as opposed to or in contrast to’.”

“But that’s exactly what I want.” Brianna presses, “I want to stop the stress of Doing and enjoy the peace of Being.”

“From my experience, Bree, when we jam ‘versus’ between Being and Doing, we get trapped in a binary distinction, a false binary.” I think for a moment and add, “Versus implies that one is opposed to the other. To me, that’s not helpful. Personally, I’ve stopped trying to oppose Doing with Being. What I’m focused on is how to bring more Being quality to my Doing.”

I’m 35 years into my meditation practice, and I don’t see credible evidence that you can just BE. To be alive is to DO. Even meditating is doing something. Thinking is doing something. Loving is doing something. Relaxing is doing something. You can't not do something. Being is NOT opposed to Doing. Being is the way you do what you do. The problem isn’t Doing, it’s Compulsive Doing – pushing ourselves with shoulds and have-tos and oughts, fixating on the future, constantly fixing our flaws, being impatient with our moods, rejecting our feelings, and measuring every aspect of our activity and progress. It’s too simplistic to conceive that the always-on crazy-busy of Compulsive Doing will be permanently replaced with relaxing, not stressing out about task lists, and not fixating on goals and objectives. I mean, that’s a vacation, right? For sure, take a vacation; there’s no prize for racking up the most unused PTO. But that’s not the same as Being. Being isn’t the same as ‘not doing.’ BEING is the way that you direct your attention, your awareness; Being is a type of PRESENCE. Compulsive Doing is a constant humdrum of attention to the present, past, and future; it’s a blend of activity + anxiety + scarcity. Activity is either physical or mental. Anxiety is fixating on the future (especially possible negative future). And scarcity is believing that you're inadequate, “not enough” - time, money, power, opportunity, value, or love. Being isn’t opposed to Doing, it’s a form of Doing. Being is attending to the present moment. In the present moment, there's activity, there are sensations, and there are thoughts and feelings. But in this present moment, you don't weave your thoughts into stories, you don't convert feelings into identity, and you don't endlessly reflect on everything that can go wrong. In the present moment, you make unfiltered, direct contact with experience and phenomena. This is how you peel away anxiety and scarcity. Immerse yourself in the direct experience of your task at hand and, voila, you are Being (even as you’re doing). So, what are a few practical steps to subdue Compulsive Doing and experience more Being?

Here are four tips.

  • Pause. Yup, this is foundational. In Compulsive Doing mode your attention flits over and over from present to past, to future. Use a timer or an app to set up a sequence of daily pauses, just moments long, to break the cycle. And what to do in that pause? Notice if you’re on Compulsive Doing Autopilot. Breathe deeply a few times. Notice your body and the myriad sensations in your body. Be fascinated by the sounds around you. In other words, be mindful; shift to intimate contact with current reality. The more you do this, the more you entrain yourself into Being.

  • Align with values. If you haven’t already, make time to identify and articulate your values (adventure, boldness, compassion, curiosity, fun, influence, etc.). Your Being mode switches on when you live deliberately, and values are your guides for deliberate, intentional living. Living into your values reduces the triggers of have-tos and oughts, and creates more alignment and meaning. If you haven’t done this, ask me for a values clarification exercise.

  • Work your strengths. Compulsive Doing is implicitly focused on your inadequacy. This sets off a perpetual drive to self-improvement, self-criticism, and a relentless self-beating to work harder, fix yourself, and monitor your progress. Truth is that you’re really good at a few things, and you can’t be a master of all things. Identify your strengths and honor them, then your efforts will be more harmonious and less odious.

  • Make friends with your past. Regret is a super expensive mental activity – it drains energy by replaying the past, and it keeps you upset and ashamed. I’d be a fool to glibly tell you to “let bygones be bygones,” it’s not always easy to “just let go.” Do, however, engage in whatever inner work you have to do to resolve your regrets, shame, and guilt. Dwelling on the past holds your attention captive. It also compels you to keep planning and preparing to make sure you don’t repeat your shameful screw-up. Go to the past to learn from it and extract the wisdom. Then bring your powerful attention to the present.

Since NOT DOING is off the table, I deeply encourage you to uplevel your BEING skills. This isn’t just good for you, it’s good for your loved ones, your teams, and the entire human ecosystem. In the spirit of leading and learning. Eric

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