A Guide To Spirituality: Being Versus Doing

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I read a wonderful piece in Tricycle magazine today about what a spiritual life looks like. The timing for me to read it was perfect. It’s something I’ve been trying to make sense of recently. 

We are very much a doing world. Even the language of therapy is often about doing. Everyone seems to come in and say to me, “I need to work on myself,” or “I need to work on my relationships.” The sentiment is understandable. We are a self-improvement culture. Our lives are viewed linearly, our lives a constant striving for self-improvement with a beginning, middle, and end. There is much usefulness in seeing the world this way. It is goal-orientated and results-focused first and foremost. It has helped create the world around us, including the computer I type on now or the smartphone I use to answer my emails and check social media. A lot of us internalize this productive voice and hear it in the daily chatter of our thinking self and assume this is who we are

But I would suggest another way of viewing our lives, one beyond the internal chatter of productivity, one that escapes most of us in the Western world. While our culture focuses on living linearly, Eastern thought often uses the circle as a symbol of human life and one’s self. (Two examples of this include the enso or Tibetan mandalas). Unlike a line, a circle is complete. It always returns back to itself. The self can also be viewed this way. We aren’t just doing beings that always need to accomplish and improve to prove our worth to the world. We are actually complete as we are. It has been obscured by modern culture. Our world encourages us to build up the self more and more. It encourages us to constantly show that we are worthy and interesting. It encourages us to feel a sense of guilt when we are just being because it is not enough to be just who are.  

But maybe we have it all wrong in the modern world. Perhaps what is needed is to return to not do more or accomplish more but just be as this quote suggests, “Living, as we do, in the Age of the Machine, it seems slightly suspect even to ask, ‘What is being?’ The very question suggests a woolly-minded lack of seriousness. Whereas doing is visible and quantifiable and generates useful, real-world results, being concerns itself with things that cannot be seen. To be is to create and sustain relationships with the invisible and the intangible . . .”

So what does it mean to just be? Unlike doing that mode of living is hidden and much more intuitive. It means not seeing people or relationships as a means to end to feel less bored or to fill up the emptiness in one’s soul, but as a way to be present and love and accept yourself and them and the moment as it is. It means to be content with one’s soul, to find peace in ordinary life. It means to love yourself as you are, even though you’re probably all fucked up and sad and broken. Who gives a shit if you are? It’s ok. It really is. When one is able to accept one’s self from this perspective, life just gets easier. You can accept people on their terms. Constant improvement and productivity as a way of life become so much more exhausting. You won’t want to live that way. You’ll just want to be. 

And if you can bring this perspective to daily life, ordinary life seems so much more special. I know it’s a cliche, but goddamn there is so much beauty around if you just pay attention a little bit. If you can get out of your way just a bit, if you can learn to be instead of do a little bit more, you can be reborn at any moment. It is all just waiting for you to see.  

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