By Jerry Ruhl
Originally published in ASCP's Skin Deep, October/November 2007.
When I was swimming at the YMCA recently, I was approached by a teenaged lifeguard who knows I write books. She asked me for an inspirational quote to write on the blackboard for the people exercising there. This old proverb came to mind: “By standing still we overtake those who are running.” Dismayed, the teen walked to the blackboard and instead wrote, “Go, go, go!”
In our go, go, go society, it is increasingly difficult to find a moment of repose. Each of us has all kinds of daily activities—from paying our bills to calling a friend. Clearly these are doing activities. But there are other aspects of life requiring equal time in the realm of being, and this includes relationships, love, and sensing the sacred in our daily experience.
Most of us need a practice of some sort because doing and being become so painfully separated in modern life. Being is not daydreaming mindlessly, zoning out, or going into a stupor. It’s a state of energized being from which we realize the highest potentials in any situation.
You can invite being into your life. You can create space for it to occur. It is important to reestablish your zero point periodically. As you get physically still, you will notice the monkey chatter that goes on continually in your head. Although it is hard for us to slow down, the synthesis of life’s tensions and contradictions requires a quiet place.
I have developed an exercise called the Doing/Being shuffle to help bring focused awareness of being into daily activities. You can do it almost anywhere. First, bring awareness to the content of your experience at the moment—the words someone is saying and the thoughts in your head. Do this for about thirty seconds. Now shuffle your awareness to being. Let your mind go loose. Gently unravel the knot of sharp attention that keeps you anchored in content and forms. Sense the flow of life in and around you, starting with the changing sensations in your body. Are you relaxed or restless? What small movements are occurring involuntarily?
Go deeper. Notice the spaces between your thoughts. See if you can anticipate your next thought before it arises, then hang out in that in-between space for a bit. Observe any patterns trying to emerge. Notice your feelings and associations. Don’t judge them, don’t identify with them. You are not your thoughts, but the awareness that’s observing your thoughts. Odd little ideas and images will float up. The means by which you experience the world as solid and real—your mind—is itself constantly shifting and flowing, like a motion picture rather than snapshots. Do this for about thirty seconds.
Now, shuffle back to doing awareness. If you’ve become lost in being, a quick device to get back to doing mode is to ask yourself, where are my keys?
Try practicing the Doing/Being shuffle once or twice a day. It takes only a few minutes. Do it while standing in line somewhere instead of becoming impatient or frustrated. Try it before falling asleep at night.
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Like a dance in which you sometimes lead and other times follow, you intentionally alter the quality of your attention between doing and being. Learn to shift the nature of your awareness. You may find the old proverb to be true after all.