One of the secrets to our wellbeing is to find the balance between being and doing. To be ourselves, to connect to the things that make us happy, we need to learn to simply be. Cleaning out a busy schedule or taking a long vacation will help, but ultimately we will need to find the being in the doing.
How we got busy
The natural state of an infant is to be. There is nothing to do, no expectations to fulfill, we can simply enjoy a good sleep, savoring every inhalation and exhalation. This perfect state of being is brutally interrupted the moment our stomach reminds us that we’re hungry. The body asking for food drives us to act, making us scream loudly. The adults around us will hopefully take notice and swiftly heat up a healthy snack, enabling us to slowly get back to the perfect state of being.
What a luxury to be surrounded by loving parents, taking over most of the doing. Thank you mom and dad.
Over time our interest with the busy world of adults will grow. Without noticing we will start copying their behavior. Soon we will playfully cook our first imaginary three-course dinner and serve it to a family of stuffed animals, eager to participate in the wonderful world of doing.
One day we will finally be able to help out at home. I still remember how my mother would ask after lunch: “Philipp, can you please take the garbage out?” I would respond with a desperate “Why me?” hoping the job would be passed on to my brother. Having to give up some of the playful being and replace it with uninteresting doing does not come naturally.
“Philipp, the garbage!”
Starting with school our schedule quickly fills up. The official curriculum requires our full attention. If we choose to enroll in additional activities like sports, music or art, our idle time will melt away. There is still plenty of time to fool around with friends, go swimming during the long summer holidays or glue together imaginary machinery, a good balance between doing and being.
Longing to be independent we leave home. We get our first flat, our first job and the first electricity bill. We start working longer hours, eager to become better at our job. If a friend calls we need to check our agenda to know, if we’re available the following evening. After a particular stressful week we might say to ourselves: “I’m only going to do this for another two years. Afterwards I will move on to a job that will make me happy!”
More responsibility will bring more money, allowing us to invest in our dream house. The interest rates on our loan will keep us on our toes. We might start to work for a global cooperation as part of a distributed, international team. Email and instant messaging notifications waiting to be answered within minutes, will keep us alert. During one of the regular business trips you might glance out of the plane’s window thinking: “How on earth did I get so busy?”
At home, you will still need to take the garbage out.
It’s not about liking or disliking
Doing is as much part of our nature as being. We are all part of the karmic cycle of life, gently reminding us of our bodily, social and intellectual needs. All these needs drive us to act. One of the keys to well being is to find the balance between doing and being.
A first impulse to find balance is trying to get rid of all the activities we don’t like to do. Would I be happier if I would find someone else to take the garbage out?
Who knows? It all depends on the effect the action has on my body, mind and spirit. Taking the garbage out has primarily an effect on my body. It’s completely up to my mind to fabricate a story, so that I can feel miserable about myself. Liking or disliking are properties of the mind and are not directly related to being or doing.
So what exactly does it mean to simply be?
Being vs. doing
Actions that count towards the doing side of the equation are things, we are compelled to do. Like crying out for food if we’re hungry, or taking out the garbage if it fills up. Doing is about getting things done. What counts is the outcome.
Being is made of actions we do engage in for the experience. The experience is not necessarily always a good one. It’s more about opening the senses, the intellect and our heart to whatever will happen. The moment we stop focusing on the outcome we start enjoying the experience.
In a society where mostly outcome counts, we run the risk to slowly turn into elaborate windup toys, spinning out of control through life, disconnected from the flow of life.
Turning doing into being
There is no simple recipe to turn doing in to being. What works for me, might not work for you. Physical exercise will probably be the only way to connect mind and body, meditation helps to unwind the mind, a good book can stir up your intellect, a beer with friends always helps. Try things out. Break out of your routine.
I try to go through my day like this:
I catch the train every morning at 07:42 to go to work. The walk to the train station can either be 20min of doing, or 10min of being and 10min of doing. How so?
While walking my mind can already be at work, going through all the things I have to do, oblivious to what is going on around me. Or I can smell the cold morning air, wave at a friend I see walking in the opposite direction and listen to the birds happily chirping because it is slowly getting warmer.
Mixing a little bit of being into the doing.
At work I can stop at someone’s desk between two meetings, asking how the weekend went. We might end up discussing a movie I always wanted to see allowing me to relax, recharge and connect.
Adding a slice of being into a day of doing.
Next time I see an unknown face queuing for coffee I can drop a friendly remark: “Hi, my name is Philipp. Welcome to our company. Just wanted to let you know that I’m always available in case you have any question. And if you’re interested to connect to people, I can recommend joining the soccer, volleyball, jogging, yoga, singing or foreign language conversation groups. Whatever makes you happy.”
Helping someone else to add some being into an interesting day of doing.
50% being and 50% doing
Many things we have to do will remain on our karmic schedules. But if we are able to find the being in the doing, our mind will slowly calm down, opening up to the endless opportunities life has to offer. With a little bit of practice our karmic schedule will balance out, leaving us in our natural state of 50% doing and 50% being.
It does not have to end like this.
It will never be as comfortable as when our parents took care of us.
And I’m still taking the garbage out once a week.
Good message backed by excellent illustration. This is book material you are producing. Living the creative life pushes the self into the being part of the equation.
Thank you so much for your encouragement! You’re right that creative work allows us to be. I really struggeled through the whole writing and drawing process, trying to explain what I thought about being vs. doing. Then, when I pushed the publish button yesterday evening, I realized how the creative act had pushed all the doing into the background.
What a wonderful post. I really enjoyed it – and love the illustrations.Do you do this for others?
I think the idea of thinking about how much time we spend just being vs. doing would do a world of good in this world. Of course, part of “learning” to just be, is to stop thinking about doing and being – but you know what I mean.
I especially liked the image of the little cook preparing the meal for the stuffed animals, such sweet innocence in that. Also, the wonderful way you wove the conscious being instead of doing on the way to work and through the office.
The especially nice thing about reading this post was it felt more like being than doing.
Hi Louise, thank you so much for your feedback. As kids my brother and myself used to use my fathers shaving cream to prepare an imaginary lunch for our stuffed animals. I remembered those innocent days, while working on this post.
I work as an engineer. In my free time I like to draw, giving shape to the thoughts in my mind. So far I never illustrated for someone else. Maybe one day, who knows.
PS what is your twitter handle?
My twitter handle is @phtschneider
Hey Philipp, I discovered your blog through Louise @ The Intentional Workplace. And I am so glad I did! This is something I have been feeling my way through since I quit my full-time corporate job two years ago and I often write about my little epiphanies around this. Happy to find a kindred soul!
Hi Alif, you found my blog and I found yours! I always wanted to be an illustrator/cartoonist. Your cartoons are great 🙂 All the best, Philipp