When my kids were little, we had a children’s book that seemed fairly simple and straight-forward, but about a decade later, it still has me thinking.
It was called Let’s Do Nothing and the storyline was about 2 little boys who were determined to find a way to do nothing. No matter what they did, though, (looked at clouds, lied still, just breathed) they found it impossible to do absolutely nothing.
Of course, they were right. No matter how little you think you might be doing, you’re always doing something.
Now, let’s look at the flip side of the coin.
We’re often admonished for doing too much. We’re human beings, we’re told. We need to do less and be more.
Admittedly, sometimes being productive can become a little *ahem… addictive. It feels great to get stuff done and cross things off that list. (I may have been known to add items to my list that I’ve already done, just so I can feel the great satisfaction of crossing them off.)
But then, I’ve also heard people swing too far on the pendulum to the other extreme. A potential client once said to me, “I’m not going to do anything too strenuous right now. I’m just going to focus on being.” Based on the rest of our conversation, it sounded like a sneaky way of saying “I’m too overwhelmed but I’m not going to do anything about it so I’m giving myself permission to watch a whole lot of TV because that feels more like being.”
So what’s the solution then? Do we focus on getting stuff done, because it’s impossible to do nothing? Or do we veg out and claim that we’re taking a break to focus on being instead of doing? Are we doomed to ride that pendulum from one extreme to the other, screaming in dismay like a goat on a bungee jump? (Just picture that for a moment.)
Here’s an idea.
Since we’ve established (or rather the wise children’s book established) that it’s impossible to do nothing, what if we hopped off the pendulum altogether and instead, braided being and doing together? (The screaming goat will thank you.)
Since you’re always going to be doing something, how about you get curious about how you’re being while you’re doing. *gives gentle elbow nudge to the ribs while winking encouragingly
Picture this. You’re meditating. In the old paradigm from a few paragraphs ago, you might have considered meditating to be doing nothing. But no! If you can cross it off your list, I say it’s a something! Or you might have called it more of a being activity… but you’re still really doing something.
So you’re sitting there, chanting away in your mind’s ear, but you’re also getting frustrated that your mind keeps wandering. Shouldn’t you be able to not think after all of these meditation attempts? “Focus!” you admonish yourself. “Inner peace. Inner peace. I n n e r p e a c e … ... ... What should I make for dinner? What should I wear today? What should I do after meditating? Aargh!!!”
In this example (taken directly from my brain), even though you would have set out to be peaceful and calm on your meditative journey, you end up being judgmental and frustrated with yourself, even though you’re meditating!
Being: frustrated, judgmental, annoyed
Or how about this one.
You’ve been focusing on amping up your intake of live, healthy foods. You’ve eaten kale and its friends for a solid week. Your jaw has become very robust from gnawing on many raw sticks, leaves and shoots.
You decide to treat yourself to a piece of health food store chocolate cake. You’re sitting there eating it, and although it tastes heavenly, and it’s so easy to chew, you’re wondering if you caved, and if you ruined all your efforts. Shouldn’t you have been stronger? More disciplined? Isn’t there chocolate cake made out of beets?
The point I want to get across here is that no matter what you’re doing, you’re being by way of experiencing emotions.
As far as I see it, there’s no way to be without feeling.
Being = feeling.
You could be doing the most amazing thing possible, but your feelings could be robbing you of having the actual experience.
Conversely, you could be doing the most mundane task that you’ve done 8,725 times before, but you could have a transcendental experience through your emotions. (See handwashing example further down.) (But still read what’s in between.) (Because it’s good too.)
So here’s what I propose.
Instead of trying to do less or be more, what if you started to get curious about how you’re being while you’re doing?
How are you being while you’re driving around?
Or brushing your teeth?
Or going for a walk?
How are you being while you plan your day?
Or making dinner?
Or listening to your loved ones talk about their day?
This exercise is about gathering information. It’s about developing awareness. It’s not about making yourself wrong or judging where you’re at. It’s about discovery. If you love what you discover about how you’re being, do more of what’s making you feel great. If you don’t love what you discover, get curious about how you can make some changes.
You might find that there are times when you’re completely distracted from what’s actually happening. You might also find that there are times when you’re incredibly present. Maybe one day, you’re washing your hands and you remember to get curious about how you’re being while you’re doing.
And then you start to really feel the deliciousness of the warm, clean water rushing over your hands. You notice that the soap smells wonderful. It slides over your hands and makes iridescent bubbles that reflect the light and then disappear in a spiralling dance down the drain. You dry your hands on the fluffy towel next to the sink and savour the luxurious thickness of the fibers and their lovely colour. And you feel a rush of pleasure, delight and happiness.
Doing: washing your hands
Being: present, delighted, happy
How are you being while you’re doing?
When you choose to focus on being while you’re doing, you’ll find that eventually, you don’t feel like you’re a productivity machine who’s constantly stressed and frazzled. Instead, no matter what you’re doing, you’ll train yourself to access states of self-acceptance rather than guilt, calm rather than rushed and happy rather than fearful.
Take this question and curiosity into your day. Make some post-it notes or put some reminders on your phone to check in periodically. How am I being while I’m doing?
The exact same task can elicit stress or pleasure, guilt or fulfillment, martyrdom or contribution. It’s time to start noticing what state you’re living in. It’s time to take notice of old patterns that are no longer serving you. And it’s time to notice what lights you up and do more of that.
You’re ultimately at choice for how you’re being, no matter what you’re doing. The first step is to check out what’s going on in your inner world. Your emotions are powerful messengers. Welcome and receive them all. They will help guide you down the path to peaceful productivity.
With ravines full of love and bakeries full of courage,
PS - Save the dates! Since 2020 has been such an epic year, it’s going to be important to reflect on its lessons, challenges and gifts. Join me for a guided Year End Review call on December 28 (am) and/or my Conscious New Years Eve Celebration on the morning of December 31st. More details will follow in next week’s post.