On Doing and Being
We need both doing and being in our lives. We become fully alive when we are powerfully generative (i.e., doing) and deeply present (i.e., being).
Nature has a way of divulging its secrets such that human beings have been seeking out its wisdom for thousands of years. In May of this year, I wrote about climbing to the summit of Mount Ashland in southern Oregon as a metaphor for life, with the ascent representing the time I had already lived and the descent the portion of life yet to unfold. I just had the opportunity to revisit the nearby Mount Shasta region where I spent two days alone in the wilderness with nothing but a sleeping bag, water, and my thoughts. That meant no electronics, no watch, nothing to read or to write with, and, perhaps most challenging, no food. I began the experience with a clear intention and a strong determination to meet both the challenge and the learnings that I was confident were awaiting me.
I won’t lie. It was hard. At times, very difficult. Beyond the hunger and the occasional fear, there was literally nothing to do. And it was the absence of doing that revealed the biggest lesson for me. Just over a year ago, I wrote about the dichotomy of doing and being in connection with Labor Day 2020. I understood this paradox intellectually but had not fully experienced it. It was not until I was confronted with hour upon hour of nothing to do, that I began to realize how much doing dominates my life. The question I had always subconsciously asked myself is, “What should I do?” That question ceased to have relevance during my two days alone. Instead, I began to ask, “How should I be?” As I gradually surrendered to a full state of being, my senses came alive. A relatively monochromatic landscape became a kaleidoscope of colors. I started to notice the sounds of a nearby stream, the rustling of leaves from the wind, and the occasional bird’s song. And the smells! My heretofore deadened olfactory sense awoke from a deep slumber, and I began to appreciate the earthy smells of the damp soil and the bark of the trees. More than anything, I became present – truly immersed in the here and now in a way that I hadn’t ever before.
The poet Rumi was on to something when he wrote, “The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell. Don’t go back to sleep.” Nature was revealing a secret that I knew I had to pay attention to. And it’s this. We need both doing and being in our lives. As I reflected on this insight during the second morning of my sit, I recalled that my best work, my fondest family memories, and my most rewarding personal experiences all share one thing in common. In each, I wasn’t just doing or just being. I was experiencing both, simultaneously. I had to experience this lost ritual of sitting alone in nature to fully understand this essential life paradox. We become fully alive when we are powerfully generative (i.e., doing) and deeply present (i.e., being). Even as I write these words – an act of doing – I am reminded of the importance of being present while doing the writing. The words you are reading now are a byproduct of this nascent integration. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
It was impossible this weekend not to remember the events of two decades ago and the impact of September 11. There has been so much written about the tragedy over the last few days. Here’s one piece from the Wall Street Journal that speaks less to the events themselves, and more to the courage and character of one of its victims and heroes – Todd Beamer.
Here’s a great Aeon piece on the history of nutrition and why its secrets continue to elude us.
If you live in the Western United States, you undoubtedly have felt the impacts of increasing wildfires. The causes and possible solutions to the alarming situation are more nuanced than we may realize. This is the best in-depth explanation I’ve read.