It is very conventional spiritual advice to suggest that being where and how you are right now is better than doing. You have everything you need now. The idea seems to be that being is good and doing, while it’s okay sometimes, is not the appropriate path to getting what you really want. I’ve always had a bit of a problem with this time-tested and honorable advice.
“Being” really means having your attention in the present with awareness and acceptance of all that is. To me it always sounded like a recipe for maintaining the status quo. In the interest of full disclosure I should say that I am a long time doer and even a fixer. My reaction to the advice to “just be” is like that of the character in the Joseph Heller novel, “just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t after you”. It seems to me that if you’re not “just being” now, then you have to do something different to be that new way.
It gets a little more serious if your current state of being is not serving you. If you are not feeling very good just now then you might reasonably want to be some other way that feels better. Our current state of being, whatever it is, is the result of all of our doing up to now. If we want to be some other way then we have to do something different from what we’ve done up to now. This is a widely understood truths.
We are frequently, one might say continuously, invited to be different than we are now. Advertisements for just about everything promise that we can “be” better than we are now we will just buy this condo, dress, or pharmaceutical. The self-help books promise that we will be ever so much happier if we flip houses, manifest abundance, or conquer our fear and shame. Religions of all stripes say, or strongly imply, that we will be full of bliss if we come to their church or do their practice.
Why does almost everyone claim to be able to make our states of being better? Because it works. A very large majority of people want to be different, better hopefully, than they are now. Dissatisfaction with the present is widespread. So, if we all want to feel better and we are all provided with these myriads of opportunities to make our lives better, why aren’t we all happy as clams?
The answer is, of course, that if we want to “be” different we really have to do something different. And we usually have to do that something for a longish time to see meaningful changes. And that is a great deal like work. This means that really, none of the material offerings, clothes condos and pills, can provide the promised change in our state of being. Most self-help books deliver a great deal of how to instruction, while ignoring the current inner state of being of most people. It is not a lack of instruction, but that inner state that keeps people doing and being the way they have been in the past. The result is that very few people can do the how-to’s. And, there is a pretty good chance that successfully flipping houses won’t help us very much with how we feel inside.
Religions fall into two categories, those that only ask that you show up and put money in the collection plate, and those that ask you to do a practice every day for the rest of your life. Participation in the “show up for the collection” religions has been declining in most of the world. It does not appear to be offering people what they are looking for. Participation in the practice religions has always in small because of all the practice required.
And now, here I come, adding my voice to the chorus of those offering a nice, even a better, state of being, one that sounds much nicer than my current state of being. I find that state of being that I’ve described very attractive. It seems both different and better than how my life is now. So I think I should do something to move me from being how I am now to being like I think I can be. And since I think I should do something different, I think everyone else should do the same thing. After all what’s good for me is good for everyone – right??
All this thinking about being in doing has taught me a few things. I have learned from all my efforts at doing that the advice to “just be” is really doing something quite different from what most of us normally do. Holding our attention in the present with awareness and acceptance is pretty different for most of us. I also understand that “just being” is really a necessary first step in making any change. Sometimes it is the only step that is needed to make the desired change.
So being and doing are not mutually exclusive choices. “Just being” where you are is certainly a kind of doing, which does not diminish its value. It is a necessary beginning for all change. The bottom line, then, is buy that nice suit because you like the way you look when you wear it, but find your state of bliss in awareness of what you already are.