In the presence of silence, does your mind tend to drift? If so, where might it take you? Grocery lists? Never-ending piles of laundry? Exams or the next project for work? World-wide pandemics?
How draining this can be — to constantly live in anything but the present moment. Many of us crave peace, but so often find ourselves ruminating on what has or hasn’t been done, the many choices or decisions that await our future, or the need to control or perfect whatever is actually in front of us. These days, it’s so easy to get lost in the restless, never-ending state of doing instead of just being.
Contemporary mindfulness teachers encourage a mindful pursuit of the ‘here and now’ as this is the only place where we can truly exist and thrive. Eckart Tolle in The Power of Now describes a “joy of Being” which occurs when one’s compulsive striving away from the ‘now’ ceases. He writes, “The moment your attention turns to the Now, you feel a presence, a stillness, a peace.”
And this act of shifting towards the “being” rather than “doing” is not a new trend. We even find it woven throughout the Scriptures, written thousands of years ago. Psalm 46:10, for example, states: “ Be still and know that I am God.” The Hebrew word for “be still” is har·pū, which translates into “sink, relax.” The psalmist echoes the need to cease all striving and surrender oneself before God.
The Tension of Being
While this state of being is important for experiencing internal peace and joy, I would add that it can also be a place of frustration, pain, uncertainty, and fear. For anytime the do’er tries to stop doing, this shift can breed tension, a perceived loss of control, impatience, or self-doubt.
The high achieving perfectionist, for example, cannot simply shed unrealistic expectations or impossible standards overnight. The over-committed parent may struggle with letting go of rigid schedules or saying ‘no’ to more responsibilities or after-school activities. The 20-something wrestling through a quarter-life crisis, plagued with endless decisions about the future, may fight the constant urge to plan or decide what to do next. Sometimes, the best decision to make is not one at all.
These moments of pausing, and ceasing to do, even if it’s just for a moment, can be extremely hard and even agonizing for some. In a world where we so often hear messages of our need to do more, we can easily miss the softer yearning of our body, mind, and soul to rest and just be. This act of shifting from the doing to the being becomes a constant choice — or more so, a fight. And so how do we go about making this shift? Here are a few tips:
Recognize the ‘Do’er’ in You
In order to embrace the state of ‘being,’ it’s important to distinguish between your ‘doing’ versus ‘being.’ The act of ‘doing’ involves anything related to planning, preparing, deciding, ruminating, or comparing. It can be a conscious or unconscious process, and you may not even be aware of when you’re doing it.
Pay attention to what might trigger your ‘doing’ mindset, and take note of how you might feel this place of striving within the body. Does your head spin or your breathing change? Do you find it difficult to concentrate on the people or conversations happening around you? Do you feel suffocated inside your own head? Take note of these experiences and sensations, for these are clues that indicate when you are caught up in a place of ‘doing’ rather than ‘being.’ Our bodies are good at telling us things, but sometimes we don’t always listen. Having a sense of awareness into these sides of you is key.
As simple as it sounds, just breathe, and listen. All too often, many of us are largely unaware of the flow of the breath — a crucial form of energy keeping our very bodies alive, moment by moment. The breath grounds us; for we can’t rush it, escape it, or go on living without it. When we mindfully experience the breath, paying attention to its warmth and the rise and fall of our abdomen as it moves in and out, there is little room for us to focus on much else — and that’s not at all a bad place to be.
Don’t Fear the Discomfort
In turning towards the present moment,’ you may initially experience some discomfort or tension. When the distractions of the future or the mistakes of the past drift away in one’s quest for the ‘now,’ deeper seated emotions or unprocessed thoughts may drift to the surface. As the do’er in us slows down, we begin to truly see what lies within.
Pay attention to the signals of your body, the patterns of your thoughts, and the desires of your heart — without running from, or over-identifying with them. These can reveal deeper needs and longings, but we can’t discern well unless we truly stop and listen. Watch them from a place of curiosity as they pass. Sometimes, these moments feel blissful and freeing. Other times, they feel messy and painful.
If, when you attempt to enter into this place of ‘being,’ you’re feeling anxious — what is this anxiety trying to tell you? What does it indicate about your fears? Acknowledge its presence within the body, recognize that it can’t actually harm you, and let it tell you what it would like to say. Give it space and let it move through the body, and eventually it will go about its way.
Let Go of Expectations and Judgments
Ironically, if you focus too hard on reaching a place of ‘being’ you inevitability still end up ‘doing’ — for you’re still striving after something that you feel you don’t have. As with so many other dilemmas in life, we often have to be willing to let go of what we want in order to later obtain it. The state of ‘being’ or mindfulness itself cannot be pursued as an end-goal. As Jon Kabat-Zinn states, “ Meditation is the only intentional, systematic human activity which at bottom is about not trying to improve yourself or get anywhere else, but simply to realize where you already are.”
The act of being doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll walk without pain, hardship, or struggle. And being present doesn’t always equate to a place of tranquility or happiness. Life is beautiful, hard, messy, and spontaneous. To be is to feel all of this, while letting go of the need to control, perform, or decide what to do next. Whatever it was, whatever it is, or whatever it might become, it’s OK, in this moment, for it to just be.
Originally published at https://www.psychologytoday.com.